Existential Heroes

Fire bellowed from the pit. Torrential winds spiraled upward as the torch seared the night sky. A circle of devastation spread, disintegrating oak and elm as waves of heat embraced their ashes.

In the epicenter, two figures locked in mortal combat. A god-like behemoth, clothed in spandex, wrestled with a thin, wiry man. Between the two shone an orb of light, its gale-like forces whipping cape and lab coat alike into tatters.

Exertion etched the behemoth’s face, pearly whites bared in a primordial roar. The wiry man, his steely eyes locked to the orb, gritted his teeth.

Then suddenly, silence. And then, a pop.

***

Just down the road at 24 Sussex Lane, elderly Mrs. Lawrence’s hand trembled as her tea cup rattled in its saucer.

“Oh my,” she said. “Seems like a bad storm.” She licked her papery lips, sipping her Earl Grey while the rest of her china rattled and shattered to the floor.

***

The force threw both behemoth and man to the edges of the pit. The orb, still innocently shining, fell back to the earth as the flames subsided.

The trees crackled as moon and stars silently lit blackened scene. The behemoth emerged first. Ignoring his weeping gashes, he raced to the orb. His hand shot out to grasp it – but stopped short. Recoiling, he coughed wetly, a spot of blood – but a momentary lapse of mortality.

Thud. His knees sank into the charred soil. Coughs continued to rack his body, thick blood splattering the ground as he doubled over. Sinking to the ground, his god-like face etched in pain and ash, he rolled to his side. Blood-specked golden hair shone pale in the orb’s light.

Into the light the wiry man stumbled, now haggard and stooped. The behemoth’s eyes trailed him helplessly, coughing still, watching him slowly gain purchase. Finally the tall figure stopped, looking down at orb. His shoulders shook, then caved as he doubled over, expelling blood-filled phlegm.

Wiping his mouth, the wiry man eye’s met with the behemoth’s. Wiping blood from his mouth, he sighed.

“Well, old friend,” he said, “I guess this is the end.” Digging through his pockets, he littered the ground with a Swiss torture knife, several Series 10.5 NanoDrones and a packet of nuclear-grade Impact-O-Plodes. Finally, he fished out a flask of whiskey. He took a swig and motioned to his prone nemesis. The hero’s eyes burned with hatred. The wiry man shrugged. “Your choice.”

Taking another swallow, the wiry man spoke. “Funny, isn’t it?” The behemoth answered with coughs and gasps. The wiry man continued anyways. “We’ve battled each other for so long, fighting for world dominance – actually, no, that was me. You never wanted dominance. I did. I wanted to control the world, rule it to my designs. And all you wanted to do was to stop me. I suppose I never understood that about you. You have all of these abilities, charisma, power, fame – you could have it all with a word. And what did you do?”

The behemoth’s feeble arm swatted at his leg. The wiry man looked down, the behemoth’s empty hand grasping for his arm. “Oh, now you want it?” He dropped the flask into his hands, watching as the behemoth threw back his head for a draught –  his body violently shaking.

The wiry man looked up at the starlit sky. “But I’m getting ahead of myself. Are you certain you don’t have any regen abilities? Super-healing? Insta-Cuagulants? Nothing?” The wiry man sighed. “My Bacto-2700 Portable Regen Tube is sitting right where I left it. In Budapest. Figures. A whole lot of good that’ll do me now.”

“I’m afraid neither of us will get out of this one – while you were right to stop me, it seems my new invention got the both of us. Our innards are even now scrambling into a soup. I never thought cellular structures could degenerate this quickly. A pity no one is here to take notes.”

The behemoth’s arm rose, flask in his grasp. The wiry man picked it up and paused, as if considering the exact number of milliliters remaining inside.

“I just wanted to see – hear me out – humanity’s on a bad turn. The planet’s going downhill, and you know it. The deserts are growing. The seas are rising. Famines are ravaging the land and a new strain of the plague is picking nations off. People can’t save themselves – heck, they don’t even want to. But if I was in charge” – a cheeky grin spread over his features – “I would make some real change. I would have gotten things done. None of this bickering, none of this dilly dallying. But you and I, we were so busy fighting each other, those pathetic excuses for world leaders got to sit on their asses, and -“

Coughs racked his body, blood spurting as he crumpled to the ground. He rolled to his side, eyes meeting with his nemesis’ – now shining dully in the orb’s light.

“I guess,” the wiry man continued, “they’ll keep on with the same old, same old.”

Rolling onto his back, the wiry man waited. The stars glimmered and the moon shone, the same as before.

“Wait – ” hacked the wiry man. “Does this mean that nothing would have changed, whether we lived or died?”

Blood gushed from his mouth, his body writhing in pain. And then, all was still.

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