“Destroy the world? Sure, that sounds like a fun weekend project. Why not?”
Callisto tilted his head to the side, his eyes lighting up. “Just like that?”
I threw my hands up. “Of course not. Are you fucking crazy? I’m not going to help you destroy the world. what I am going to do is schedule an appointment with the doctor to discuss the clear psychotic break I’m having.”
I whirled around and walked out of the room. I got into the hallway and found Callisto standing just in front of me. “Okay, you can teleport. Least my insanity comes up with some pretty cool ideas.”
Callisto frowned and poked me in the chest. “As I said, you’re not insane.”
“Can you just let me think I am? It would make handling this a little easier.”
“I’m afraid not,” he said and vanished. I turned around, and he was back in my room, beckoning me inside. “I don’t have all the time in the world to wait for your brain to catch up to reality. If you could just take what I’m saying as fact and quit thinking you’re crazy, it’ll make all this much more bearable.”
I moved to my bed and sat back, running my hand through my hair while keeping my eyes on Callisto. “Okay, so just take asking me to destroy as a serious question?”
“Yeah, not happening.”
Destroy the world, what the actual hell? I tried to find some logical answer to all of this, some prank or jest, but as I stared at Callisto, at his Sunfire eyes, I knew it couldn’t be a joke. Why couldn’t I have just been crazy?
Callisto laughed at my response, throwing back his head while shaking with laughter. As he controlled himself, he spoke. “That’s an understandable response. Who in their right mind would agree to that unless they were a psychopath.”
I grabbed a pillow next to me and squeezed it in my hands, folding it and trying to crumple it, just for something to do, something normal in my hands. Okay, so let's assume we’re not bonkers here. That means we have a literal god in our bedroom, and he’s asking us to destroy the world like a person would ask to go check the mail. Okay, put aside the fact that your reality just broke. We can table that breakdown for later.
I stood from my bed and threw the crumpled pillow at Callisto. “What the hell is your problem? Why do you want to destroy the world? Why not try fixing it first!”
He stepped to the side as the pillow hit the wall behind him and fell to the carpet. Callisto ignored my questions for a second and went over to my dresser, opening the drawers and pulling out clothes at random before tossing them to the floor. “Those are very complicated questions, with one very simple answer.”
I stared slack-jawed at him. “…You’re…bored?”
“Extremely bored,” Callisto said and padded over to the edge of my bed and jumped back, plopping onto the center of the mattress.
He took what few other pillows were on the bed and started rearranging them, stacking them on top of each other, and then with a touch, sending the tower crumbling down. “I’ve spent the last few thousand years here, watching this world and hoping things would get entertaining, but alas, you’ve stagnated. All you humans ever do now is eat, mate and lead meaningless lives bereft of any emotion or purpose. It’s miserable to watch.”
I shrugged. “Then why not do something besides watch? You’re a god.”
He frowned, balancing a pillow on the back of his hand. “Well, it's not that simple. I can’t eat food, and the fact that I look like a ten-year-old child means that any human who wants to get busy with me needs to die a very excruciating death. Then there’s the whole no killing rule, makes things complicated, to say the least.
“Though I will say watching used to be a lot more fun. You humans used to know how to get things done. Man, were the crusades a fun time, and then there were the world wars, so many new toys to play with, and you’ve hardly used them at all. It’s been nothing but progress, peace, and boredom.”
“My bad, I’ll let them know at the next nuclear holocaust meeting, don’t worry.”
I went and sat down in my chair, still reeling from everything, while Callisto built a makeshift fort with my bedsheets. “So…you want me to destroy the world, out of sheer boredom?”
“Yes!” he shouted, exploding out of the blanket fort. “Will you?”
“Hell no.” I scoffed. “Bring about Armageddon, your damn self.”
Callisto laughed and jumped off the bed, landing on one foot before pirouetting towards me. He wagged a finger in my face. “You think you have a choice? That’s cute.”
“Do I not?”
He frowned, rolling his shoulders back and forth before shrugging. “Well, yes. Technically. Free will and all that. Shardbearers can’t go against it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t rig the game in our favor.”
His lips lifted in a knowing smile as the flames in his eyes smoldered. My heart sank as I stared into his eyes. He’s done something terrible. I shivered as a gust of warm air from the vent sent goosebumps up my arms. My parents, Meghan. “You took my family, didn’t you?”
“Got it in one.” Callisto’s smile grew even wider, and his eyes burned brightly, bathing the room in lambent light. “But not just your family, but your friends as well. Anyone that’s ever cared about you is gone.”
I stood from the chair so fast I didn’t even realize I moved, my hands shook with anger, my index finger trembled as I pointed judgment at the God. “Why? Why go to this length?”
“Because you have a part to play, Killian Dunn. I’ve chosen you as my harbinger. My agent of chaos. I will not be denied this, but you refuse otherwise. In every other instance, you say no, and I’m forced to choose another, and everything falls apart. It has to be you.”
I backed up, wanting more than anything to run screaming. But I couldn’t. I had to know.
“My friends, my family. Where are they?”
“Alive. They’re alive. Safe and sound until I need them…I’m not entirely heartless, you know. Think of this as motivation.”
“What happens if I say no?”
Callisto vanished and reappeared right in front of me. I withered from the intensity of his gaze and a too-wide smile. “I kill everyone in front of you and scatter their souls to the abyss.”
I gulped, sweat beaded along my neck. “You’d do that?”
“No. Weren’t you listening before? I can’t directly kill a human being.”
“Then what happens if I say no?”
He rubbed his chin. “I leave them where they're at, and nothing happens. They’re in stasis, for lack of a better word. Unaffected by the passage of time. If you say no, I leave, and they stay there, never to return to mortality.”
It was too much for me to handle. My head and stomach couldn’t take it. I rushed to the bathroom and barely made it before I heaved chunks into the toilet. When I was finished, I wiped the bile from my mouth and drank from the faucet.
I stayed there staring into my pale eyes and hoped beyond anything in the world that this was all just a nightmare, some strange fever dream that I would soon wake up from, and all would be right with the world again.
With a glance at Callisto, I blew out a long breath. Not likely. Am I seriously considering this? I walked back into the room as Callisto started ransacking my closet, trying on clothes at random. The whole world for my family. No one is worth that trade-off. But I can’t just abandon them. I sat back in the chair.
Destroy the world, and I get my family back?”
“Uh-huh,” he said and tried on one of my old baseball caps from middle school. Spinning around with a too innocent smile on his face. “How do I look?”
I chucked my computer mouse at him. He disappeared as it sailed toward him and reappeared hovering over my bed, my bright red baseball cap still on his head. “Nice throw, but you shouldn’t waste your time throwing things. You have a decision to make.”
“It’s not a decision at all,” I whispered, hanging my head. “Even if it’s my family, I can’t sacrifice the entire world for my own selfish needs. I couldn’t live with myself.
“And besides, even if I said yes and did what you asked. I’d only bring them back to a dead world. better to stay where they are than subject them to that.”
“Hmm…” He rubbed his chin in thought, all while continuing his peter pan impression, drifting around my room with ease. “Aha!” he said and dropped with a thunk onto my bed. “I’ve got a better offer for you, something to entice you if you win.”
Callisto climbed off the bed and held his hand out to me. A twinkling light appeared in his palm for a moment before fading away, leaving behind a tiny teardrop-shaped crystal vial holding a droplet of glowing amber liquid inside. “This is a drop of my divinity, and with it, it can grant a single specific wish.”
I reached my hand out automatically, but the vial vanished before my eyes. “So, I get a wish if I destroy the world?”
“And I can wish for anything? Even to put the world back to rights?”
He nodded. “If that is what you wish.”
I frowned, crossing my arms. “You’ve left me little choice but to accept.”
Callisto smiled as he somersaulted the bed. “Of course, only a fool negotiates from a position of equality.”
I huffed, letting out a weary sigh, and threw my hands up. “Fine. Fine, you deranged god. I’ll play your game.”
His lips rose in a sadistic Cheshire grin. “Then, the mantle is yours, my Demon Lord.”
You have accepted the God Callisto’s offer and have now been granted the title of Harbinger. Harbinger bestows the Class: Demon Lord, as well as the Unique item: Soul of the Demon Lord.
Welcome, Demon Lord, to the Apocalypse Game!
Item Acquired: Soul of the Demon Lord (Soulbound)
+10 to Strength and Wisdom
(Locked) Level 25 Required
(Locked) Level 50 Required
(Locked) Level 75 Required
(Locked) Level 100 Required
Name: Killian Dunn
Class: Demon Lord (King)
I just stared at the screen, for it could be nothing but an imitation of a computer screen floating in front of my face, semi-translucent so I could see through it at Callisto’s smiling face. “What the hell is this?”
“Your Mantle, it can’t be a game without a way to level up.”
“I can see that, but what do I do with it?”
Callisto frowned before looking around the room. he dropped to the floor and grabbed the plastic case of Oxide Online. “Geez, you’re supposed to be a gamer. I thought you’d be smarter than this. You level up, duh. Think Stats.”
Here goes nothing. Stats.
I waved away the screen and scowled at Callisto.
“Sorry, God. When you asked me to blow up the world, I should've known that I’d have to level up first. How silly of me.”
Callisto chuckled and floated into the air and out of my room. I followed after him into the hallway. A pang of sorrow sucker-punched my gut as I passed by Megan’s room. Her clothes where she’d left them, her soccer gear lying by the door. I’ll get you back Megs, I don’t know how, but I promise I’ll bring everyone home again.
I turned back around, and Callisto vanished.
A noise came from downstairs, and I headed to the stairs. I found Callisto in the kitchen, scooping nearly a whole jar of peanut butter onto a slice of bread and smashing another slice on top. He picked up the drooping sandwich and took a large bite, but his teeth passed right through it. He turned to me as I entered. “Hungry, I made you a sandwich.”
I ignored him and grabbed the carton of orange juice from the fridge. With no one to scold me for drinking out of the carton, I took a large gulp and set the carton on the table.
“You should really use a glass, you know,” Callisto said, still holding the sandwich.
“And you shouldn’t be going around trying to destroy the world, you know,” I retorted.
He laughed and dropped the untouched sandwich. It landed with a thump on a paper plate, a large gob of peanut butter spilled out. “Yeah, but what’s a little systematic genocide between friends?”
“Speaking of, how do I go about ending the world? There isn’t exactly a Wikipedia page for it.”
Callisto propped himself on the counter, swinging his legs and hitting them against the wooden cabinets underneath. “That, my Demon Lord, is entirely up to you. You can go about it any way you choose, but my recommendation, try and level up quickly. You’ll have certain skills as you advance that will aid you in your progress. Along with some help from my creations.”
What do you mean?”
“Think Skills,” he said.
What the hell? Guess I’m just going with it at this point. Skills
Demon Claws: Elongates hands to wicked points sharp enough to sever bone (Scales with Strength)
Cost: 75 Mana
Duration: 3 Minutes
Cooldown: 1 minute
I closed the Mantle and shrugged. “It sounds cool, but what does it do?”
“Guess you’ll have to find out, won’tcha?” he pointed at the door. “Now, take a look outside.”
Confused, I went and opened the door, taking a step outside before my brain registered what I was seeing. My stomach lurched as my jaw dropped.
It was a rainy day in October just a few hours ago, right?
Snow fell from overcast skies, the sun shining bright behind them. It wasn’t cold enough for the snow to stick, so I got a really clear look at the world.
It looked like the apocalypse had started without me.
The houses opposite mine were damaged, broken glass littered yellowed matted yards. Mr. Finnegan’s house was completely burnt to the ground, and it looked like a bomb had gone off next to Mr. Johnson's house, half the living room was obliterated and blackened, debris strewn across his burnt grass.
Broken down cars littered the streets, broken windshields and taillights mixed with suitcases and luggage tossed about on the concrete.
“What is this?”
Callisto laughed behind me, and he faded through the side of my house. Half his body sticking out from the brick. “Well, as you pointed out, destroying the world is a rather monumental task. I decided to help you by getting the ball rolling, so to speak.”
I gestured at the broken world in front of me. ”How did you manage all this in a couple of hours?”
He ducked his head and grinned sheepishly. “About that, it’s actually been a little over a month. I kept you in a time lock while we’ve been talking, courtesy of a friend.”
“So, what the hell am I supposed to do?”
“You catch up,” he said and shoved me off the porch. “Everyone else has had over a month to level up. You’ve got some grinding to do, noob!”
He laughed as he faded away and left me standing there utterly clueless on how to proceed or what even to do next. Dammit, all to hell. Some freaking instructions would have been nice!
“Callisto! What am I supposed to do!?” I all but shouted down the empty street. Silence.
“Dammit,” I cursed and rubbed my arms, my breath fogged in front of my face. It got cold quickly this year. I marched back inside and to my room, digging around in the mess Callisto’s had made before finding my winter jacket. It was heavy waxed canvas and would keep out the worst of the cold. I added my hiking boots to my jeans and T-shirt ensemble and was about to head out the door when a thought struck me.
I need to prepare better than this. If this is the apocalypse, I need supplies, a weapon. I opened my desk drawer, pulled out the cheap folding knife I picked up at a flea market and stuck it in my jeans pocket. Need something more than a knife, though.
Dad kept a pistol in the nightstand by the bed. He’d told where it was in case of an emergency. I’d say this qualifies. I crossed the hall and crept into their room, feeling like I was violating some sacred temple. It’s an unspoken rule between parents and children that while parents can barge into their kid’s room at all hours, you never set foot in your parents’ room unless the apocalypse was outside.
The room was stagnant like it had been empty, and I disturbed that emptiness when I pushed the door open. I didn’t want to linger here, so I shuffled to the bedside table and threw it open. Nestled in between several orange pill bottles, a half-empty box of condoms, and a ton of old receipts was the revolver.
It was a Colt detective special. It belonged to my grandfather, who’d been a cop back in the forties. He left it to my dad when he passed, and I’d only shot it once when I was twelve. I remembered the thing had a helluva kick, though, but that was eight years ago.
As soon as I picked up the gun, a new screen appeared.
Weapon: Colt Detective Special
Ammo: 6 .38 Special Rounds
Condition: Neglected (12% Firearm Failure)
Huh, neat. But what’s with the neglected part? Is it because it hasn’t been used in years? I stuck the pistol into the pocket of my jacket and looked around for some extra ammo, but I didn’t have any luck.
I headed back downstairs and found one of my mom’s expensive leather messenger bags. It was one from her job. The Windigo Industries logo embossed in white on the side. It had ample room for supplies. I dumped out the papers and rock samples and went a loaded up as much food and supplies as I could find in the house.
I did have some luck in that regard as I came away with six bottles of water, a nearly full pack of protein bars, and a minor first aid kit.
As I finished stuffing my back full, a screen appeared in my Mantle.
Apocalypse Currency: 0
Food: 2 Days’ Supply
Water: 2 Days’ Supply
.38 Special: 6 Rounds
First Aid Kit (Low Grade)
Apocalypse currency? What the hell is that? I cursed Callisto for not explaining anything and threw the bag over my shoulder.
It’s not much, but it’s better than walking into the apocalypse with my wit and a go get ‘em attitude.
With my bag packed and the lingering unease in my gut, I headed out. With one last glance, I left my home and walked into a strange, nightmarish world.