Chapter 8 Page 39
Posted September 22, 2023 at 03:26 am

**EDIT** Final colors up! Just flats for now. Spilled boiling water on my drawing hand! I'm fine, just an annoying delay! Finishing touches to come. Thanks for reading!



        For a moment, it seemed as though Ape’s muscles had begun to swell with strength. First his shoulders broadened, then his biceps bubbled up to twice their size. This was where the illusion shattered, however: as this expansion moved down to his forearms, his shoulders shrank, and then his biceps, too, briefly granting Ape a striking Popeye silhouette.

        Crush cocked an eyebrow, waiting patiently.

        At last the matte black of Ape’s impossibly dark robes was broken by a bulge of gloopy green—two bloated doctopi had crawled out from his sleeves onto his hands. With routine ease and hungry eyes, both spirits simultaneously engulfed Ape’s fists, transformed into a pair of living boxing gloves. Ape sunk into a fighting stance once more.

        Crush’s smile twitched, then burst at its seams. He broke down laughing, sending spectral energy swirling when he tried to slap his nonexistent knees.

        “HAHAHAHA!! You’re just too much, big guy!” Crush roared, snorting and holding back tears. It took some time before he managed to compose himself. “Ahh, what a night! What a fight! Of all the great apes, big guy, you’re the greatest!”

        THWeep!! A vicious straight slammed into Crush, which made a clownish squeak. The ghost was sent back sailing twenty feet.

        Ape tilted his head, leering at his opponent with dim incredulity. Not only was Crush unfazed, but unharmed, too... and incandescent. The ghost’s face, chest, and the arm he’d blocked the blow with were encased in a gleaming purple carapace of spectral energy, a shell so dense it was opaque, unlike the see-through constructs that he’d made so far.

        “Pretty cool, right? Master Guerra calls this spectral tempering.” Crush’s voice had taken on a resonant waver, as if traveling through flawless liquid glass. “You can’t just focus on the end result when ya make armor like this. You gotta picture every layer—fused but separate, firm but flexible. Boy, is it well worth it, though!”

        Leaves rustled faintly in the wake of Crush’s lunge, reacting to a fleeting instant of poltergeist presence. Ape’s guard rose and shattered as a tempered fist slammed him across the clearing. Both doctopi cooed with delight.

        Crush beamed. Even his teeth shone with power, sharpened to a row of violet fangs. “Ha! When ya weave it right, tempered energy’s like havin’ extra muscles made of steel! The best defense is a dang good offense too, it turns out! Works both ways.”

        Ape pounded his doctopus fists together (which they seemed to quite enjoy, the little freaks) and stepped back into arm’s reach swinging wildly, aiming liver punches at the side of Crush that wasn’t sheathed in purple. Each blow the ghost’s armored limb nonetheless easily blocked earned a little squeak of joy from Ape’s increasingly jubilant boxing gloves.

        “Of course mine ain’t the VERY best defense,” Crush smirked, throwing counters through the flurry raining down on him. “I can only cover so much, not like Scabs or Master Guerra. But I reckon that it’s still better than yours!”

        WHAM!! A thunderous cross-counter froze their brawl.

        Crush grinned against Ape’s gurgling doctopus fist. “See, I’m protectin’ me for real,” he said, “but you, you’re just snuffin’ out the pain... which means you’re really, REALLY gonna feel this in the morning.”

        Ape’s mask scraped Crush’s knuckles as he turned back to face him. “Then you admit,” his deep voice droned, “that I will be the one who sees the dawn.”

        “Ha! Well yeah, big guy!” Crush laughed and knocked the brute’s drooling fist away. “I’m not gonna kill ya. I’m just gonna beat you senseless and drag ya back to Master Guerra. Whoa—were you planning to kill ME?” He clasped his chest in mock heartbreak, shaping his spectral energy into a single purple tear.

        “You are already dead,” Ape replied matter-of-factly.

        Crush contorted with surprise—perhaps because he’d forgotten he was a ghost again, as he often seemed to, or perhaps because he thought that Ape had pulled off some sort of instant-kill pressure point technique on him, and was announcing it before his foe exploded.

        Ape continued on, however, sagging with a reverent regret. “Thus, I have killed no one. Only given victims peace. Ghost, let this knowledge soothe your restless soul, as it has soothed countless others: the second end you face fuels life eternal.” Two doctopus-clad fists steepled in prayer. “Lament. Rejoice. Give praise to my goddess... the King of Corpses, the Saint of Skeletons, the Reaper Regent Razor Rex. May Her holy bones bleach ever brighter, the stench of Her decay stink evermore.” Ape shook his head, staring at Crush forlornly. “Alas, it is too late for Her to save you. But you are not forgotten, pitiful specter. For Razor Rex avenges you, my child—soon shall death itself die by Her blade... the very same scythe that your soul will serve to sharpen.”

        “Ha ha,” laughed Crush. “Uh, what?”

        “You are right to ask this question. For Razor Rex asked questions, too. What has killed more people than death? What murder has occurred where death was not a co-conspirator? Should death not, then, face judgment? Should death not be put to death?”

        “...Listen, big guy, I’ll take a pamphlet if you got one, but let’s keep fightin’, yeah?” Crush picked his nose impatiently. “Yeesh. I’d heard the rumors about Mayview havin’ some kind of weirdo death cult—y’know, for depressed accountants and realtors or whatever—but I thought you guys would WORSHIP death, not BORE me to it.”

        “I would do neither of these things. Death is our obsession, yes, but only as a flaw we would see fixed.” Ape nodded sagely. “If anything, you should be calling us life cultists—”

        Crush punched Ape so hard that he cartwheeled, landing in a heap in distant bushes.

        “Ah,” Ape said, unhurt but not uninjured. His doctopus gloves trembled with sheer glee. “That should be enough now

        Beneath the black of his robes, something bright and sparkling stirred.