Deep in the earth, the cult members of The Underground Sun gather in their crypt, Marko Elliston standing at the forefront as he pulls up his black hood over the silver skull that covers his face. The walls of this tomb flicker with orange firelight, this time they are conducting business much further into the darkness than before, so the electrical lighting they’d had before wouldn’t be used here. All of their masks reflect the firelight as they stand in a circle, the rest of them facing Elliston. “Today is a very special day,” he says, smirking devilishly beneath the shroud. “We’ve finally conquered the one that has proven so determined to derail all of our work. The moon child, Arlo Black.”
There is a series of hisses from behind the other four masks, but Elliston holds up his hand. Smiling, he points behind them and all four of them turn in unison, toward an archway leading to some ascending stone steps. From near the top of them, three more figures are making their way down, one of them much more hulking and deformed than the other two. As they step lower into the light, it is revealed to be Lester Flint, their previous victim-turned-mutated-beast, and the other cultist that wore white robes and a golden skull. The grotesque monstrosity is dragging a third body behind him with a black bag over its head, and that is removed to reveal the moon child himself, Arlo. The werewolf has been beaten senseless, no doubt by the new and very much improved Lester, bleeding from somewhere above his hairline, as well as his nose. It dripped over his face, down the side of his neck before pooling into the collar of his shirt. He’s placed in an old wooden chair, and the cultists surround him, binding his hands behind him with silver shackles.
“Today you get to make your most important, and indecisively final decision, Mr. Black.” Elliston leans forward, his face about a foot or so away from Arlo’s, looking him over carefully. “I wasn’t sure we’d succeed in getting you here to face us for this moment… until we had Lester here.” Elliston glances at the hulking thing standing behind him, and one could tell he was grinning under there again. “He was… hesitant… but ultimately compliant with his conversion to our cause.”
“That’s a whole lot o’ words, just to tell me you killed a guy and brought his corpse back to fight for you. Looky here, Arlo, we got a super zombie.” Arlo spits blood onto the floor between them, glaring right back at Elliston as more crimson bleeds into the grey stubble of his jawline. “Congratulations on your newest recruit. I’ll make sure it’s the last thing you see before you die.”
Now the sadistic one really can’t help himself, chuckling quietly as he removes his skull mask, placing it on a nearby table. No sense in the illusion, this wolf-blood knew perfectly well who he was talking to at this point. “I made sure not to have the same cracks in the walls of my plan when it came to bringing you here. You feel that itch, against the skin of your wrists? That… burn?” When Arlo makes no reaction, he continues. “Break all the thumbs you want, you’d skin your hand to the bone to get out of those chains. Pure silver. I melted it down and made the restraints myself. Just for you. Just for this.”
“I’m flattered,” Arlo says, his eyes never leaving Elliston’s person. “I’m still gonna kill you.”
Sighing, Elliston takes a knife from his robes. Everyone in the room tenses except for Arlo, but the knife doesn’t move for him. Instead Elliston walks to a stone well in the middle of the room, pushing a granite cover off of it with a thud. The water here is like that from the pool The Underground Sun had bled Lester into the night they’d sacrificed him. Watching the swirling white waters and the glow from deep within for a long moment, the man finally turns away, facing the bound captive. “This group isn’t as evil as you make it out to be. Sure, we kill. Everyone in this room has killed, don’t forget that. Everything we are doing is working toward rebuilding a world that can thrive. This one we live in? Without our goal being achieved, it will wither and decay, painfully. We’re doing what is necessary, and if you would just agree to work with-“
“You’re doing what you want to do. You’re spilling blood for an idea, and it is a shitty idea. Not a single person in this room has any guarantee that burning cities and slaughtering countless innocent people is necessary. At no point does that become right, at no point does that becomes sane.” Arlo is finally looking around at the other cultists, and one or two of them exchange glances as he speaks. “That’s all you people are. People in masks with shitty ideas, and no way to come to terms with the fact that you’ve lost your fucking minds.”
Shaking his head now, Marko takes his blade and turns back to the well. “If that is your decision…” Raising his other hand, the leader carves a line into his palm, closing his fist and dropping a little trickle of red into the pool. “Blood of the follower, to appease the Light.” The waters begin to churn, frothing back and forth as he turns to Lester, snapping his fingers. The beast grabs Arlo, chair and all, and brings him near the edge of the pool. Now Marko takes a moment, walking around to the other cultists and removing their masks. Mateo, the large dark man with a taste for human flesh, is not present. The white-cloak cultist is last to be unmasked, revealing it is Zophia again, her once-golden hair now shorter and whiter. Elliston strokes her chin as he passes her, coming back to Arlo and putting a hand on his shoulder. “These are more than masks and ideas, Mr. Black. This is destiny, and now your part in it is over.”
As he raises the knife to kill the wolf-blood, a gunshot rings out through the crypt. All of the cultists whirl about in alarm as the mutated Lester falls forward, a wide hole in his temple. Two more blasts sound off, and the four black-cloak cultists that had come with Lester are drilled through their skulls with almost perfectly angled shots. Elliston and Arlo both turn to look at Zophia, who is holding the gun. “Zophi? What are you-?” Arlo cuts him off, bending his torso to get his head low enough before sinking his teeth into the back of Elliston’s hand. The cultist yells in pain and alarm, raising the knife again.
The woman holds up the gun and fires one more time, this bullet hitting the blade in Marko’s hand. The blade is knocked loose, and the bullet ricochets down into Elliston’s leg, causing him to cry out a second time as he falls to one knee. She walks forward, barely giving him time to register what’s happening before cracking the butt of the gun against the back of his head. As he groans on the floor, Zophia takes the key to the shackles from his robes and moves around the chair, freeing Arlo. “Are you okay?” she asks as he brings himself to stand. Rubbing his reddened wrists, the gruff man nods, turning to Marko. “I was going to just kill him… but maybe if I let you do it, you won’t want to do it to me too.”
Looking between the remaining cultists, Arlo is quick to come to a decision. Quick as lightning, he slashes his arm down, ripping his fingers across Marko’s throat just as the leader is getting back to his knees. In the same fluid motion, he turns and fastens the same bloody hand around Zophia’s throat as well. Stunned, Elliston chokes and gurgles, blood pouring from his mouth and neck. He tips over backward, falling over the edge of the well. His legs remain hooked over the edge, while his head, arms and torso all submerge into the water, which begins to churn with new intensity.
Arlo picks Zophia up off her feet, pressing the smaller frame against the wall with one arm as she whimpers for air. His face is dangerously close to her neck, and if he chooses to end her just as horribly, she isn’t in any position to overpower him. “Why?” comes the harsh whisper of his ragged voice, his grip slackening only just on her esophagus, allowing her to breath and, eventually, answer his inquiry.
“I can’t stay here, and neither can you. Does it matter anymore?” she says, looking up at him with a mixed look of determination and fleeting terror.
“It matters. If you stab these people in the back, I can’t exactly turn mine on you, can I?”
Gripping his hand, Zophia pulls his fingers off of her gently, looking into his eyes. “I saved your life. More than that, you should know the big one doesn’t stay dead. Lester already died once, I can’t kill him twice. So if you want to sit here and ponder over whether I’ll shoot you as soon as you stop looking at me… then sit here. I’m leaving.”
Arlo steps aside after a vexing moment of the two staring down one another, before he stoops down to grab up the silver cuffs. He chucks them as hard as he can across the room, and they land in a dark and dirty corner, hopefully never to be recovered. “You killed all these people to save a life you don’t know anything about, huh? That a thing that just happens to you often?”
“These people found me when I was very young. They made me believe their way was the only way… but I don’t believe it anymore.” Zophia looks around at the slain bodies, turning to Arlo again. “I heard your words, and I knew in my heart, what Marko called destiny really is just… pain, suffering… madness.” Moving away from him, she sheds her white cloak. Beneath is only undergarments, but she doesn’t seem any more shy about than the nonchalant man beside her. As he watches her, she takes off her Underground Sun pendant, putting it with her robes and mask before putting them beside the well. Taking one of the torches, she burns the pile, turning once more to Arlo and handing him the flame. “The Underground Sun is no more. I hope we do not meet again, Mr. Black. For both our sakes.”
Arlo just watches for a moment as she walks past him, toward the stone steps leading out. Holding the torch up, he calls out to her. “Hey… we both know this isn’t all of them. What if they come after you?”
The woman’s frame is barely illuminated by the torchlight, but she does turn to him, coming down a few steps. As she does, her silver hair grows longer, turning a deep shade of black. She also has black lipstick and eye shadow now too, contrasting with her pale skin as she gives him a knowing little smile. “Come after who?”
With that, the former cultist turns and disappears up the steps, leaving Arlo to stand there among the bodies in silent thought. Finally, he gives it a bit of a smirk himself, shaking his head as he too makes way for the exit. “Women…”