Chapter Seventeen: Become Ash

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My name is...

I am...

He could not remember. He couldn't remember anything.

There was a light beside him that sputtered and sparked, but it had no form he could discern. The closest thing it resembled was a great roaring fire that glowed with every possible color.

He, however, was dull and his skin was almost the same color as the floor he stood on: gray and lifeless. The dust upon its surface trembled and shook as he and the fire became surrounded by large, gray creatures whose heads almost seemed to brush the heavy, low clouds above them. Their voices were low, booming and, inexplicably, understandable.

"The one born from chaos has been relinquished of his disparity, and he shall become the dust that settles on the ground. Our world shall be saved."

He looked at the fire. Perhaps he saw a leg or an arm reaching out to him. It twisted and burned, and in its depths. A slice of darkness, a shape forming from that depth. It looked familiar.

"Maddie," he whispered.

"Ash," a voice echoed around, taking the Ones around them by surprise.

"So it is foretold! The Rift sacrifices this soul to turn him to ash. Our chance is here."

Ash. Ash wasn't just a word. Ash was a person, a creature not from this side. Someone dear to Maddie, perhaps to him too. To Splitface.
"The world shall become ash once again! The greatest fertile ground there is. We shall sow a new world with his ashes!"

Splitface looked at his fingertips. There was no wind here, but still, he watched in horror as a fingernail crumbled into dust and dropped in a million particles to the floor. His face began to throb as he tried to breathe, anything to stop the rest of his hand crumbling into nothing.

As if held by nothing, everything below his right elbow cracked and the dust blew up, swirling around his graying body.

"The heat! The chaos! It disturbs him! It blows his body away."

The crowd began to chant something intelligible. All in unison. Their huge, gray masses of body became a tight circle around the sparking fire and around his decaying body. Splitface dropped to his knees as his body could no longer keep him standing, and with the movement both his feet and ankles disintegrated and became nothing more than ash.

"Ash."

The voice came again, and Splitface looked at the center of the flickering fire. The dark shape formed fingers, wild hair that whipped around her shoulders. The arms stretched out to him.

Splitface reached back with his only remaining arm, and in doing so, three of the fingers crumbled away.

"Ash, become Ash. Become Ash," shouted the crowd, but Splitface only wanted to reach the figure in the fire, its face was beginning to form. A mouth curled at its lips as fingers that glowed almost white in their incandescence. Another half finger disintegrated, but Splitface still stretched.

The hand grabbed him, and with it, his form shattered, spilling onto the floor, onto everything. The last thing he heard was the lowing of the crowd as they shouted over and over: "Become Ash. Become Ash."

*****

"Molly!" Kal had scrambled towards her as she had reached into the glowing void, and had grabbed around her waist. Her skin was so hot, it was like she could melt. But Kal had held on, burrowing his head into her back. He didn't understand any of this, but he threw himself into the role of keeping whatever or whomever he could on this side of reality.

The flickering woman had all but devolved into what could only be described as a void. A bright, beautiful, terrifying void of everything and nothing. Her body had long since gone, and replaced by the popping, cracking and flaming, almost tear in reality itself.

Every fiber in his being screamed at him to move, but that happened every time he flipped off a ramp or hurtled his bike through a ring of fire. This should be easy: he did this for his job.

However, his job had never involved what looked like the actual flames of Hell. It wasn't his own bravery that kept him there, it was the fear of losing Molly as her shadowy figure continued reaching through the void. As long as he didn't let go, she wouldn't disappear from his grasp.

"Hurry, Mol," he said through gritted teeth as the welts blossomed on his bare arms, as his hair singed in the heat. He didn't even know if he could hear her, but he wouldn't ever let go. Not now. Not ever.

"You must pull us back." The words ran like thick cream into his ear, and Kal gasped into Molly's blackened back, and he, almost on instinct, began to pull.

It was as if she was mired in mud, but Kal locked his fingers together and pulled. There was a sound that seemed to be in his very head, like splintered straw all around him. The fiery void flickered and sparked, and the noise got louder.

Molly began to scream.

Kal screamed also as the heat spiked, burning his arms, his cheek, every possible part the fire could touch. He clung tighter and pulled harder. He jerked back as he finally gained some ground from the void.

Molly's arm reemerged from the fire, clutching something gray and only partially visible. Kal pulled once again, and he shuffled back, and saw Molly was grasping an arm.

"Pull."

And he did, Kal grimaced and pulled, shuffling back, watching what was almost an outline of Ashley Everson emerge from the portal. Molly's body burst into color as she gripped her arms around his back, pulling his limp ghost out.

The portal caved, and collapsed. The ghost Molly held slammed into Ash's bloodied and blackened body, and it exploded in a torrent of light and color: purples, reds, greens, cyan all swan into the depths of the still body.

Ash's eyes flicked open, and he gasped a breath of the hot, stagnant air.

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