The Favor, Part 3
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Last time on Nexus:
The Favor, Part 2

The ravens screeched above them and by now were flying so low in the confined chamber that Dean could probably pick them out of the air. MTF Tau-5 continued to hold each other at bay with its weapons while Deimos pulled on Ellis' arm and let loose one pick-up line after another. Dean stood by, not quite seeming to know what to do.

Elli herself, meanwhile, furrowed her brow before it occurred to her what was going on.

"Dean! Schooling slaps!"

Dean shrugged and punched everybody in the face. Tau-5 was caught completely off guard by the action and easily disarmed, which Elli took as further proof of her point.

"Do I have your attention," Elli asked. "Wonderful. This here is Harab Serapel, the Ravens of God's Burning. The Qlipa of lust, greed as well as selfishness and congratulations, you have just been successfully pitted against each other. These ravens here are clouding your minds."

"Oh, and you must be in good health or what?" asked Irantu lurkingly.

Elli rolled her eyes.

"Good Sir, if Chaigidel couldn't manage to read me out, what makes you think that Harab Serapel can influence me? I am simply wired differently than other people. Think about it. One man was enough to overwhelm the three of you. You feel wrath, for crying out loud.

Elli stared fixedly into the others' eyes. For several minutes he remained silent, but she could see how gear were grinding behind all brows.

Tau-5 and Deimos, too, finally blinked in confusion.

The ravens' cries faded and they retreated upward.

"You seem to be calming back down," Elli remarked.

"What was that?" asked Nanku, dazed. "I've never felt anything like that before."

"That, Nanku, was divine mind manipulation," Elli explained to her. "Albeit quite subtle."

"No, this, this feeling…. I wanted to pull the trigger on my team for no reason…"

"Like I said, anger, part of being human, look forward to it.

"Oh, look," Dean cut in. "There's just one exit left."

Everyone turned in the direction Dean pointed.

Sure enough, all the exits were gone except one.

"These Qlipoth are like trials," Onru remarked.

"Of course they are," Elli confirmed. "Everything bad in the world is considered a trial in Judaism. The qlipoth are no exception. That's one of the functions of religion. You can use it to make the world look good to you."

Tau-5 gathered up his weapons again and set off with the rest to the next qlipoth.

It manifested as a vast wasteland, lit by hot rock.

"Samael, God's Wasteland," Elli introduced. "I guess we'll just have to go through here. Oh, it's hot here…"

The group started to move.

Elli tried to take a drink, but her alcohol caught fire before it reached her lips, so she closed her flask in disappointment.

The opposite wall came into view.

"Where-where is the exit?" gasped Deimos.

The wall in front of them was solid and hole-free.

"Are we off course?" asked Irantu.

"Impossible," Onru denied. "My gyroscope doesn't lie."

"She's right, we went straight as a die," Dean whispered in Elli's ear.

"Do we have to search the whole wall?" asked Deimos.

"First we'll get to the wall," suggested Elli.

The heat was starting to get to them all, Dean perhaps excepted.

When they finally reached the cave wall, Elli put a hand on the hot stone.

It began to crumble, revealing an exit.

"Ah, much like Thagirion, Samael is testing our resolve and toughness."

"Can I maybe finally fire at something?" asked Nanku as they fled the heat into the tunnel.

"You've already been allowed to blast a ceiling," Dean noted.

"Yeah, but boulders aren't a challenge…. They're boring."

"Say, why are you all moving so close together?" asked Elli.

"We're facing a wall here," explained Irantu.

"There's one behind us, too," Onru reported.

"Can't be, we'd be choked by now," Elli objected. "Run forward."

It took a moment, then a scraping sound rang out, as if stone grinding over stone. It was about three feet forward.

"The wall is receding in front of us," Irantu reported.

"It's contracting behind us in return," Onru added.

"That's strange," Elli commented. "Actually, Gamaliel should be coming now, God's Defilement."

Then she felt something inside her. There was something developing in the area of her stomach… And on her arms…

She looked down at herself and discovered bumps on her body. She tapped against the formations, which slowly grew larger. It was solid flesh…

Cancer cells!

"Oh no! FORWARD! This area is creating tumors. If we don't hurry, we'll get stuck here!"

Frantic rustling and clicking became loud as the group began to move. On the way, a sickening wet sound rang out and they suddenly got more room to move, but it didn't matter because at least Ellis' muscles and lungs were gradually being blocked by cancerous growths. Dean, who as a machine was not affected by this effect, eventually just dragged her and Deimos behind him.

Then the wall in front of them disappeared and they saw a clear tunnel in front of them again.

Except for Dean, everyone looked as if water had been injected under their skin in various places, creating bumps.

Elli rummaged in her pocket with her still-useable hand and pulled out Panacea, which she distributed to everyone. The tumors gradually subsided after that.

"Where did you get SCP-500?", Irantu wanted to know once his lungs were operational again.

"In other universes, you can get this stuff at any pharmacy. The composition is easy to decipher, you just have to dare sometimes," a recovered Elli replied as she continued to hand out pills. "Where's Onru?"

"She got crushed by the wall behind us," Nanku explained. "That's why we suddenly had more space. I felt that with a crushed foot she would only hinder us, so I didn't help her."

Elli sighed and put her hand on her eyes, which was again reassuringly free of tumors.

"People, be more careful with your lives…"

After everyone was able to move again, they got going to reach the deepest part of the Tree of Death.
Even before the reached the cavern, the chant reached their ears.

"We are on the lowest level," Irantu reported. "This is where we fell victim to hallucinations."

"Nehemoth, the Hight Spirits," Elli concluded. "The lowest qlipa. I won't be able to neutralize the incantation right away, buy me some time."

"How will that work?" asked Nanku. "The hallucinations mean we can't see where the enemy is."

"Nehemoth is seducing the faithful," Elli said. "Using their fears. And we have an expert with us for that, don't we?"

All eyes turned to Deimos, who grabbed the back of his head in embarrassment.

"I've never done anything like this before, this will be a completely new experience for me…"

"But you can neutralize the hallucinations," Irantu asked.

"I'll at least give it everything I've got," promised the God of Terror.

"Well, quiet now, Elli, you start when you're ready."

The group swarmed into the room.

Still in the center of the room, eleven people sat in a circle around a tree made of flesh, but by now it had pierced through the ceiling. Elli concentrated. It took tact to find the right phrases.

Then she began to sing in Hebrew, though not particularly well. She could not hold her notes long enough.

The tree noticed her and tore tendrils and tentacles from the ceiling.

Only to pull them back in pain as Tau-5 began firing its remaining weapons.

Elli felt a psionic signal blazing towards her that was immediately dismissed by her mind. The hallucinations had to be kicking in with the others. Samsara, at any rate, ceased firing and looked around frantically.

But Deimos stepped forward. Around the tree the ground broke open and the tentacles of the god came out of the holes to wrap themselves around the tree.

A tremendous hiss sounded and the entity began to struggle against its bonds.

"It is one thing to test man," proclaimed Deimos. "But quite another to try to drag them to their doom."

More tentacles were pulled from the ceiling, but a divine arm wrestle ensued between them and more tentacles erupted from the ground. Samsara took the opportunity to fire at the summoners.

The monotonous chanting gradually broke off and gave way to Ellie's more or less good hymn.

Then, above her, one of the snakeheads burst through the ceiling and stopped right on top of her.

It was only thanks to Dean, who pried open the creature's mouth, that Elli was not swallowed. Deimos could not intervene, because the Nehemoth claimed all his attention with its contest of strength, even Tau-5 did not change that, because some of the summoners were quite persistent. Even bullet wounds didn't make them stop their summoning, as Samsara was careful not to mortally wound anyone.

More snakes came out of the ceiling and surrounded Elli.

One of them opened its mouth to devour her and shot toward her…

Then it crumbled into dust.

The tree gave a deafening screech as it began to collapse under Elli's prayer. Dust trickled from holes in the ceiling and the earth shook as the caverns of Qlipoth disappeared from the tunnel.

O5-3 watched the Qlipoth through a camera on a helicopter that flew around the strange structure of flesh and wood tendrils at a safe distance. It had almost formed into a complete dome before the microphone picked up an otherworldly screech.

The entire structure turned to dust and disappeared…

O5-3 made contact.

"How's the disinformation campaign coming along?"

"As far as we hear everything is going great. Class-A amnestics are being distributed over the surrounding villages and radio communications are down at the moment. None of this will get out."

"Very good. Carry on."

He hung up.

Good, now it was time to clean up. He trusted that Tau-5 would carry out his orders perfectly.

Samsara handcuffed all the members of this death cult, while Elli gave them makeshift medical care. The two Deans, meanwhile, kept an eye out for any aces the Qlipoth might pull out of their sleeves, but only fine dust trickled from the holes in the ceiling. It formed fascinating patterns in the light of the carbide lamps the cult had taken with them.

"Looks like we got it," Elli gloated when she finished. "Wasn't so hard this time, was it, Dean?"

"Yeah, you almost died four times, but otherwise it was super-easy, barely an inconvenience…" he grumbled back.

"Screw you!" spat one of the Anihilimus summoners. "We were just trying to give you salvation."

"Well, we don't need salvation," Elli retorted. "We like the world as it is. That's just where suffering and misery come in, there can't just be laughter and sunshine, that just leads to a new definition of 'bad'."

She clapped her hands.

"So, ladies and gentlemen, I'm done. I am now opening a portal to Site-"

Beneath her, the ground cracked open. Sinister tentacles emerged from the hole and wrapped around her before she was dragged into it, resisting fiercely. Deimos hopped in after her.

Dean looked confused at what was happening.

"Hey, what are you doing?"

Then he heard a gun being unlocked beside him. Tau-5 had his assault rifles pointed at him.

"Dean, you are hereby under arrest in the name of the SCP Foundation," Irantu postulated. "Don't take offense, those were our orders from the beginning. The O5 Council wants Elli contained."

O4-1 opened his video conferencing app on the computer in confusion, because O5-3 rang through to him.

"This is O4-1, is there a problem, Sir?" he called in.

Instead of a video feed, all he saw was an image of a man's black silhouette.

"Oh, quite the opposite," replied O5-3. "I just wanted to call in person to prevent this from being lost somewhere. Those Qlipoth are no more."

"Oh, I'm glad to hear that," O4-1 replied with relief. "And you're calling me for that?"

"No," the supervisor replied in the negative. "I'm calling because I want you to prepare a cell with strong reality anchors. We'll send 'Elli' over to you, SCP classification pending. We'll take care of 'Dean' ourselves."

O4-1's jaw dropped.

"You mean to tell me… Tau-5 thought it was a good idea to detain her ally? She had a deal with us."

"No, that was our order, even before the actual mission," O5-3 explained to him. "O4-1, you think we're going to let such an anomaly run free if we can help it? A time traveler at that? Just think of all the chaos she would cause."

"I'm not sure that's wise-"

"Don't worry about that," O5-3 interrupted him with satisfaction. "She is currently in the grip of one of the most powerful Thaumiel anomalies the Foundation has ever possessed. Her escape is impossible. Prepare everything."

With a queasy feeling, O4-1 ended the call. Hopefully the O5 hadn't screwed up there…

The place was white, except for the black tentacles that held Elli. An enormous, white room like Sathariel. Not even a floor was recognizable. Deimos stepped toward her, smiling sadly.

"Deimos, what are you doing!" she called to him. "I just saved your butts!"

"Sorry, but those are my orders," he said. "The Foundation doesn't like people like you running free throughout the world, you should know that."

"Deimos, I have an agreement with the Germananophone Branch," Elli pointed out to him.

"The O5 doesn't seem to care about that," Deimos replied with a shrug. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have received such orders. You're contained now, Elli. Welcome to my… Well, let's call it torture chamber. My realm of terror."

Elli frowned and looked around. What was here that she was afraid of?

Then the corners of her mouth moved upward.

"Torture chamber? Realm of terror? Is that supposed to scare me?" she asked smugly.

Deimos sighed.

"You picked up on it pretty quickly. Yes, I can't see your fears. Not even I am strong enough to get answers from your mind. But it doesn't matter. You're trapped in here. One wrong move and you'll have your neck squeezed."

"Deimos, how stupid do you think I am?" asked Elli. "You are the god of fear. If you had threatened me outside your realm, that would be a different story, but in here you have to work with the fears of your victims and nothing else. And even though fear is one of the most destructive forces in the universe, it's basically just one thing: a protective function. You can't do any harm to me in here that will permanently damage my body, not even if you wanted to. That's more your father's line of work."

That struck a nerve.

"Not bad, you're the first to decipher my powers," Deimos complimented her with suppressed anger. "But fear does something else. It paralyzes. I can just keep you in here until the containment team shows up."

"Oh, can you?" asked Elli with a sad grin. "Look up."

Deimos did as instructed.

And frowned. The world above him was pitch black. But not because of his actions. It had to be Elli.

"What are you doing?"

"I suppose you've been reading my file," Elli said. "About my escapades, my portals. Didn't it ever strike you as odd that I can only create them in confined spaces?"

"That's a portal?" it escaped Deimos. "But what's the point, Elli. You can't reach it."

"Let me finish. Your realm is an empty world right now because it can't access my fears. That means there are no boundaries, because they can't be defined. The portal keeps expanding at faster than light speed."

A tremor went through reality.

"And here comes a little fun fact from ontophysics. Once a dimensional portal has a… let's call it 'critical mass' for the sake of understanding, then the two worlds it connects begin to merge at a fundamental level."

"What are you trying to accomplish with that? You just gave me control of your ominous Nexus, you know."

Elli chuckled apologetically.

"Um, no."

The tentacles abruptly eased away from her, while the white of Deimos' domain gave way to Ellis' living room hallway with a cosmic creak.

"Because you know, in the Nexus, I make the rules. Think of it as hacker protection. Even the Scarlet King has no power in here if he gets dragged in along with his dimension. The reality in here crushes every psychic power except mine and takes over every other world like a black hole. This is how the tide turns, oh Deimos."

Deimos tried to reshape and open his dimension. Then he looked around, startled, before turning his gaze back to Elli.

He couldn't use his powers.

"I guess I need an example for the O5," she mused meanwhile, "Volunteers?"

"I was just following orders," came chokingly from Deimos.

"Excuses," Elli shot down. "You have morals, don't you? Unlike those poor souls of Tau-5, you didn't have to obey. And in the multiverse, nothing goes without consequence…"

Deimos whirled around and tried to run away, but with a mechanical clicking noise the hallway suddenly stretched to infinity. He couldn't move from the spot.

He noticed a door beside him. With the power of desperation, he threw himself through it and slammed it shut behind him.

The ground was strangely soft, but he couldn't see anything because it was pitch black in here.

"I know why you don't ignore your orders," Ellis's voice suddenly echoed from above. "You're trying to escape from what you fear most. You, as the god of panic."

Countless lights suddenly flared up around him. The room he was standing in turned out to be a cosmos of shining stars and planets.

And he realized he was standing on Ellis's huge palm…

She herself was sitting with her legs crossed in the void of her universe.

"But what good did it do you?" she asked. "Because the very thing you're trying to run away from is about to catch up with you. For a long time."

Deimos raised his arms in front of his face in anticipation of any pain.

But nothing of the sort happened. The light merely changed.

He found himself on a wide green meadow, above him a bright blue sky, but no sun and no clouds. It was not apparent where the light came from, for Deimos did cast no shadow.

He looked in all directions. Nothing but absolutely flat grassland, all the same kind of grass plant. The place seemed to stretch into infinity.

And Deimos stayed there.

For fifty years.

Dean reacted quickly, grabbing both rifles and holding the barrels up as the two members of Samsara tried to fire.

Nanku retaliated with a kick to the pit of the stomach that could break a normal person's back, but only made Dean take half a step backward. He pulled his other foot back and was about to pull their weapons out of their hands, but Irantu let go on his own, lunged at Dean and delivered bloodcurdling punches to his face. "Bonk" did it resound every time he hit.

Dean endured the blows silently while his head was jerked back and forth by the force. He then struck in turn, using Irantu's rifle as a club, but he ducked away under the attack and wanted to continue, but Dean used the motion to throw the rifle away and deliver a hook to Irantu's chin with his now free hand that lifted him off his feet. He landed on his back without any show of pain, while Nanku hastily backed away from another blow from Dean, letting go of her gun. But she immediately grabbed a pistol, which didn't come into play, however, because Dean hurled her own weapon at her. Nanku dodged, but was knocked down by Dean and fell to the ground.

"I feel insulted," she said from the ground as Dean kicked the gun out of her hand.

"Don't move!" barked Irantu suddenly.

He had his grenade launcher drawn and pointed at Dean.

He was sure he could survive a grenade impact, however, he would suffer at least cosmetic damage and as far as he knew, Elli had no spare body for him at the moment.

He decided to comply with the request.

Nanku scrambled back up and stood next to Irantu.

"In the end, your actions were meaningless," the leader of Tau-5 commented.

Dean shrugged his shoulders.

"I bought time, didn't I? Is that nothing?"

Irantu and Naku suddenly disappeared behind a wall of blackness that divided the entire room.

"Wow. And I hadn't even timed that," Dean remarked in amazement.

He entered the Nexus while Naku and Irantu on the other side were still deciding what to do. Nanku finally set foot through the portal, but fell victim to telefragmentation when it closed abruptly.

Dean rolled his eyes in the Nexus when he saw the bleeding leg. More to clean up…

O5-3 was at the end of his shift and was on his way back to his office. He was going to get his bag and then call it a day. It wasn't the first time he had set things in motion to save the world. For others it might be a memorable day, but for him it was Wednesday.

In his office, the lights were dimmed.

Funny, usually he always turned them off before he left…

Then he noticed that someone was sitting on his armchair and had crossed her legs on his desk.
"Hello…", the blonde growled with a scowl.

"Who are you?" it escaped O5-3.

He wanted to leave his office and raise an alarm, but the door behind him was blocked by something black.

"If you allow me, I'm Elli," she introduced herself. "And you don't need to bother calling security, the communication system has a temporary glitch, everything will be working again as soon as the technicians have isolated my virus, I'll give them twenty minutes. And don't worry, I don't want to hurt you. I just want to warn you."

O5-3 felt queasy. Shouldn't this woman be contained?

"Warn? About what?"

"About me…"

The ceiling of the room suddenly went black. Deimos fell out, bound and gagged, and slapped on the floor. Looking around and catching sight of Elli, he began to scream and scramble away from her as fast as he could.

O5-3 turned pale. Who could get such a reaction from the God of Terror with her mere presence?

"Oh, don't be such a pussy, I could have left you in there for a thousand years. But lucky for you, I'm just too kind…" grumbled Elli.

She stood up, came around the desk and positioned herself in front of O5-3.

"Now, let's talk turkey, my friend. You want to lock me up right after I helped you save the universe? Not cool. I'm pissed off, disappointed, disgusted and a little bit horny. But what the hell, it's to be expected. Look at the fact that I let you get away with it again as a final payback for that thing in Germany, Austria and Switzerland."

She raised her index finger.

"But, if you deliberately get in my way again, it won't just be the God of Terror screaming at the end. All right?"

It took a while for O5-3 to answer.

"Shall- Shall I pass this on to the rest of the O5s?"

"No need," Elli declined. "I'm having this conversation with all of them right now, which is a handily application of time travel. And there's one more thing. Please pass this message on to the Samsara project team. If you don't start treating their creations with more reverence, they're going to be in for a surprise next time they do a full reincarnation cycle, because I've saved some data from the past that Tau-5 should be very interested in… I wish you a pleasant evening. Be careful when you get into the car, I put a whoopee cushion on your seat."

Without another word, she walked past O5-3, stepped over a whimpering Deimos, and disappeared into the portal that closed behind her.

It was snowing. Under the cloudy night sky, a man waited at the entrance to a large metal gate. He had pulled his hood deep into his face because of the cold, so that his face could not be seen.

He waited, longingly.

At last he heard the roar of an old motorcycle engine and from the falling snow a lone headlight flashed. It took a while, but then the driver of the old vehicle stopped beside the waiting man.

"Didn't think you were waiting out here," the driver commented in French.

"You know what this is about, right? What I am on about," the man said.

He sounded very patient and one couldn't hear it, but one could still sense that there were a few screws loose somewhere inside him.

"Point taken…"

"Do you have what I wanted? All of our work hinges on the quality of your research."

"I do, boss, I do, but…. You're going to have to adjust to some, well…. new developments, but I'd rather tell them to you inside."

The motorcyclist began rummaging in his pocket.

"When you say 'new developments,' are there any problems?" the hooded man asked.

"None for us here," the driver replied, finally pulling a photo out of his pocket. "We'll be able to pick her up as scheduled. Here, a taste of what I'll tell you when we're warm.

He handed over the photo. His conversation partner looked at it long and hard and then pressed it to his chest.

"How awful!" he sighed. "Come on in. I'll keep the photo, though."

While the driver pushed his motorcycle through the gate, the hooded man stowed the photo of the scrawny, white-haired girl in his breast pocket.

"I'm on my way, Angelika…"

Next time on Nexus:
Ruins of Madness, Part 1

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