A moment later, Rollick was jerked back in, away from Uluki, away from the shelter of her comforting tenderness.
I will tell you nothing. Even if you kill me.
But it was already affecting him. He hadn't spoken the words aloud; he'd allowed it to read them in his mind. That wouldn't do. He wouldn't play its game.
"Nothing," he repeated audibly, speaking with his mouth this time, not his mind. The word didn't come easily, and without context it would be unintelligible, but that wasn't the point. The point was defiance. All he had left.
It stabbed into him again, grinding a piercing coil into his chest. He cried out wordlessly, unable to restrain it, but he would not speak. Not as it wrapped around his arms like as a snake. As his heart was encircled, he groaned again, sure now that he wouldn't survive this. Not unless he told this beast what it wanted to know, and that information was worth more than his life.
Rollick didn't want to die. He hadn't wanted to before, when the god possessed him, and now he had so much more to live for. Not just the faintest of hopes for the future, but a future that had come true. Uluki was with him, loved him, was real and solid, was not just his own fantasy about her. They had their beloved children, the source of so much joy. So many reasons to stay alive... but at the same time, he was willing to die. Not glad of it, but willing.
He would not survive at the expense of others. If this thing forced the information out of him, many others might be killed. Better for Rollick alone to die. He tried to get out more words of refusal, but his chest was too constricted. His lips moved soundlessly.
It was in his mind again. That was worse. Infinitely worse than the physical pain. It was far more violating and... far more like before. The evil god had not wanted to kill Rollick, its host. That would have been suicide. It had tortured him, but the torture had been almost entirely psychological. It was in his brain the sensations still lived the strongest. And as his his mind was penetrated yet again by this new creature, it grew harder and harder to hold back.
It was no longer a question of will. Rollick was no less resolved than he had been that he would sooner die than reveal anything that would help this evil thing. The problem was that the entity was in dangerous territory in terms of potentially triggering a flashback-- something entirely involuntary.
I will give you nothing.
Again the words weren't audible, but not by mistake this time. Rollick was simply no longer able to speak.
Even as this thought formed, he knew it wasn't true. He would give it something; he couldn't help it. He felt the familiar black rush as a flashback overtook him.
No no no no no no damn you stay strong fight this don't let it have control no damn it...
But it was too late. He was plunged back into the memories, reliving them as though they were happening at that instant, not ten years ago.
Things were falling apart quickly. Too much magic, an influx, all at once. Those scientists and their portal. The powerful blood; they couldn't stop what they had started. But it wasn't the magic that worried Rollick, or the strange creatures and bits of geography that seemed to have poured in out of nowhere. A serious concern, but it could wait.
What couldn't wait was locked up and chained and buried in the basement of The Institute. A god. And evil one, dangerous and chaotic. Mindlessly destructive. If it got out, everyone would be in danger. Rollick had to make sure that didn't happen. He ran down the stairs, his sword drawn...
Bodies on the ground, Rollick had to step over them.
It was gone. The basement was darkened, the air was unnaturally chilled and reeked of sulfur, the door stood wide, and the chains lay on the floor, unoccupied. Rollick looked around, peering into the darkness...
There it stood, wrapped in the flesh of a human host. The host was hundreds of years old, but perfectly preserved by the god's tinkering. The only hint of something amiss was the luminescent green glow of the eyes. The god stared at Rollick through the face of the body it inhabited. Somehow, Rollick saw what was coming.
He also understood why it had to be. Why, ultimately, it was better this way.
Rollick knew of the god. He knew it was insane and mindless, and relied on the mental faculties of the human host to have any ability to plan or reason. A willing host would give the god a major advantage-- and the current host was both willing and brilliant. In him, the god would be difficult if not impossible to stop. Rollick, however, would make it fight for every scrap. Rollick would turn every bit of strength he had against it. And that might-- it was doubtful, but it just might-- be enough to allow his friends to prevail.
The host crumpled at Rollick's feet. The god had sensed strength, had sensed a strong will, and since the prior host had neither, it had decided to claim a new body. Rollick's body.
Agony. Terror and pain as the creature forced its way in. A cascade of bloody images, cruel and sadistic desires, twisted impulses, and all the time a background stream of cackling and babble.
It was strong. Obscenely strong. Rollick had no control, none at all. Cloaked in his body, it charged up the stairs, his blade drawn.
Death. So much death. Dozens perished by Rollick's hands, as Rollick's soul wept.
But not only wept. He fought.
A doorway. Eight Dusklings crouched inside, terrified and bewildered. Not Uluki. Her relatives.
Rollick dropped his sword and ran.
It was the hardest thing he'd ever done, forcing it to give in and allow him to do that. The struggle exhausted him...
The creature knew the answer to its question, but Rollick could not stop the flow of memories any more now than he could before. It poured into him, out of him, holding him in the past he would never be able to forget.
Rollick was in the woods, alone. The creature was trying to force him to go back, to search out victims, but Rollick refused. He sat still, his eyes closed, focused...
Time was passing. Rollick was getting thinner, paler-- yet not weaker. Every day, he was learning better ways to fight it. It wanted to leave. It was tired of its uncooperative host. Rollick refused to let it go. He clutched it with his mind and buried it in his body. This was hell, but it was his hell to bear. He would not condemn someone else to live with this. Nor would he condemn the world to be tormented by this creature in a more willing host.
The visions were the worst part. Those the god had already killed. Those it wanted to kill. In its fantasies, it murdered thousands, including everyone who Rollick was close to. Rollick had to watch. Over and over. The god fed on the sufferings of the people in proximity to it, and Rollick was sentenced to witness and experience that suffering as well. The god gloried in that, and Rollick ached...
The god had figured out which of the visions hurt Rollick the most. Now he was made to watch Uluki die painfully and horrifically, her blood on his own hands, hundreds of times a day...
But there were bright spots, too. Uluki's messages. She missed him. She wouldn't stop fighting for him. She was proud of him. Every word she spoke strengthened Rollick. His dreams of her, of returning to her, of a life with her-- however impossible it was those dreams would ever come true-- eased the pain.
Rollick knew the end was near. The god was weakening. Uluki and Mercedes and their comrades were choking off the chaos it fed on. Soon the time for battle would come.
And that would be the end for Rollick, too. He would die. In agony. But the god would be defeated, and that would be the end...
The battle. His arms folded across his chest. He thanked them. Thanked them for releasing him from his hellish prison, thanked them for helping him defeat the beast, as their blows rained down on him. He was stabbed over and over again. His skin burned. The knife plunged into the back of his skull. Soon it would be over. The sword sliced into him, cleaving downward where his neck met his shoulder.
It was done.
He awoke. The first thing he saw was Uluki's beautiful face. He longed to reach out for her, to draw her close, to kiss her and bury his face in her hair and never let her go...
"Enough!" With effort, Rollick forced his mind back to the present, like a swimmer coming up for air. "Enough. It's me you're concerned with, not her. Not her."