When the world came to an end, when the apocalypse finally arrived, it was with all the fury and thunder foretold by the biblical scriptures Sareech had read long ago.
First the ground shook, an earthquake that rippled the mountainside as if Satan himself had suddenly flexed his arms somewhere in the caverns of Hell. He could hear trees snapping as if they were little more than dry twigs, the vast forest crashing down upon itself in waves of percussion that steadily moved toward him, and through it all was the odor of sulfur, heavy and poisonous, as the morning sun disappeared behind a thick, black pillar of smoke that ascended upward into the heavens, blocking out the dawn, eradicating all warmth, all light, all hope.
The chireep were in full panic. For many days, they had felt the tremors, smelled noxious odors rising from the flanks of Corah, the mountain upon which they had built their city. Some had fled -- the unfaithful, those who were more afraid of Corah than Sareech's holy wrath -- but most remained behind, believing that their god-from-the-sky would save them. Now they swarmed through the tunnels of the cliff dwellings even as the walls began to cave in, burying alive the young and elderly; they huddled together on parapets, crying out to him in words that he barely understood:
Save us, Sareech! Rescue us! The destroyer has awakened! Use your powers to send Corah away! We call upon you, please stop this!
This was the moment for which Sareech knew he'd been destined. Many years ago, far beyond the stars, he'd been Zoltan Shirow. He had been born a human, had lived his early life in that mortal shell, understanding nothing of the cosmos until the Holy Transformation had occurred. Not recognizing his own divinity, believing himself to be a mere prophet, he'd traveled to this world with his followers, only to discover that, as humans, they were inherently sinful, damned beyond hope of redemption.
One by one, his congregation had perished in the mountains. Only one among them he managed to save, after they consumed the bodies of the others in order to stay alive. Greer stood beside him; her body had become frail to the point that she was unable to walk without the aid of a stick, and her blue-green eyes had grown dark and haunted, her hair grey and matted. It had been a long time since he'd last heard her speak, yet she was still his consort even though she was no longer able to share communion with him.
Nonetheless, she was a holdover from his past. The chireep were his true people. They'd found him, worshiped him as a god, and in their doing so, Zoltan had discovered his destiny. He was not a prophet, but far more. He was Sareech, capable of taming the Destroyer.
So now, as the ground quaked and ancient forests tumbled and the air itself became foul, Sareech stood his ground. Standing on top of a wooden platform high above the cliff dwellings, he raised his arms, let his batlike wings unfold to their farthest extremity.
"I am Sareech!" he shouted. "I am God!"
As he spoke, a hideous black curtain rumbled down the mountainside, a wall of superheated ash that ignited the undergrowth, setting bushes and fallen trees ablaze. Even the bravest of the chireep were running away; chirping madly, they scrambled downhill in one last, desperate effort to escape. Two of his followers clutched at his legs, their oversize eyes insane with terror, their claws digging into his calves and knees, no longer even praying for salvation, merely hoping that death would be swift.
Only his consort remained unmoved. Beneath the cowl of her ragged white robe, she stared at him, ignoring the ash descending upon them. Her eyes challenged him, daring him to justify his claim to divinity.
At last it was the time. It was within his power to perform a miracle; it was the moment when he would conquer the elements. Opening his hands, Sareech reached forth, calling upon the black mass hurtling toward him to part on either side, just as Moses had once willed the Red Sea to open wide and allow the escape of the Children of Israel.
"I am Sareech! I am --"
"Go to hell," she said.
Then a wall of ash struck them with the force of a hurricane. He had one last glimpse of his consort -- her head lowered, her eyes shut, her tattered robe catching fire -- before she was swept away like an angel in flames.
In the next instant he was pitched off the parapet, hurled toward the ground far below. As hot ash filled his lungs, roasting him from the inside out, and his skin was flayed and his wings were ripped from his back, he had one last thought, as if a solemn and merciless voice had finally spoken to him.
You are not God.