Where to Read Godpunk (formerly known as Future – Past)

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5.3

I’m not sure when I woke up.

I became aware of myself when I leaned up against an alley wall, next to a dumpster. The stench was strong — rotted food and forgotten rubbish piled high. I felt dizzy, unsure of myself. Resting my head against the metal wall felt nice.

I had clothes on. They looked like rags, but they were clothes nonetheless I put my hands on my head, shook my head.

Had to get my thoughts in order. Had to figure out what I had to do.

Stepped on a can. Slipped on it. Fell over.

Wanted to fall asleep again, but that didn’t feel right. Couldn’t always escape to the past, couldn’t always escape to the dreams.

My body felt sore. What had they done to me?

They. They. Someone must have done something to me. That’s how I ended up here, like this.

I shook my head, shaking the thought away.

I must’ve done a lot of bad things to end up in a situation like this.

I shook that thought away, too. Couldn’t think like that. Practicality was key.

My stomach grumbled. Had to take care of that, first. The conspiracy could wait. The rambling self-loathing madness could wait.

I got up, slowly, stumbled out of the alleyway.

My god, the city was beautiful at night.

Lights on, everywhere. Cars, streetlights, rooms.

I looked at the rooms across the street: a grid of apartments, everyone going about their day to day business. One room had two male elves in a kitchen, one sitting down one standing up. The one sitting down sighed, rubbing his head looking at a piece of paper. I wondered what could have bothered him so much. The other was crying. I wondered what was bothering them so much. Another room had two elves making out on the bed. I wondered if they saw me. I wondered if they cared about the outside world. A third room had a couple of elves sitting in one room, watching the TV. Their kid — or maybe just a kid, but in my heart I felt I knew the kid enough to know he was their kid — looked out the window, looking at the city just like me.

Just like me.

Just like me.

But who was I.

Who am I?

Looked at the hands. My hands. Didn’t care enough about them to explore the question further.

*HONK*

I craned my neck to the right and saw two bright eyes staring me down, attempting to blind me.

No. Not right. Car lights.

*HONK*

I was in the middle of the road.

“Move it along, buddy,” a man yelled at me. I looked over and saw that he was an Elf Guard. I did what he said, shuffling off the road and back onto the sidewalk.

“Disconnected from the timestream?” the Elf Guard asked me.

I looked at him. He looked bored.

“Yeah,” I whispered.

“Look like it,” he said. “Go into the diner over there.”

I looked at his finger.

“Over there,” he said. “The diner over there. Do you understand me?”

I kept looking at his finger. “Yeah. The diner.” I turned where his finger had been pointing and saw a diner at the corner. “Over there.”

“Right,” he said. “Go over there and tell ‘em Officer Dale sent ya. They’ll give ya a cup o’ coffee. Maybe something to eat.”

“Mhm,” I said. I hoped he’d let me stand there for just a moment. Get my bearings. I slipped my hands into my pockets, hoping he’d let me rest.

“Go over there,” he said. “Now. And tell ‘em Officer Dale sent ya.”

I nodded my head, slowly at first, and then somewhat quickly, to show that I knew what he meant. I ran towards the diner, trying to make up for lost time.

Nearly bumped into someone, but I ran past them before I could look at their awful face — their judging countenance.

The diner’s neon sign flashed with promise. I looked at it, admiring the way it spread across the street corner, bright light proclaiming itself for all to see.

I slipped a cig in-between my lips. “Fiat lux,” I said, snapping my fingers so that the light of my life could blaze for all to see.

When I opened the diner door, everything felt better somehow. Fluorescent lights shone, and a nice young waitress smiled, grabbing me by the arm.

“I’m lost,” she said, brandishing a sparkling smile.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking around at the diner. It was pretty packed, for this hour of the night. I felt bad about my cigarette spilling ash onto the floor. She guided me towards a booth.

“No, that’s what you tell me,” she said. “Sorry, sugah. I’m just trying to help you get back into the timestream.”

“I’m lost,” I said, sliding into the booth. She slid into the booth on the other side, so that we were facing each other. It felt nice, comfortable. “You’re right. I’m lost.”

“Officer Dale said you’d take care of me.”

“What?” I asked. I shook my head, laughing. “Right. Yeah. Sorry. Officer Dale said you’d take care of me.”

“He’s a friend of ours.”

“He’s a friend.”

“That’s what I say,” she said.

I blushed, nodding my head. I knew that, but it didn’t seem important enough to mention.

“Can I get a cup of coffee?” I asked her. I wasn’t sure that’s exactly what I wanted to say, but I wanted to say it before she could.

“Sure thing, sugah,” she said, getting out of the booth.

“No,” I said. Realizing that’d been ambiguous, I almost explained myself. But she walked off before I could.

The place felt warm. Not hot, but warm. It wasn’t an uncomfortable sort of warm, either. It was the sort of warm that blanketed your body, letting you know you were where you were supposed to be.

I was sitting by a window. Looked out at the dark black night, admired all the lights lighting up the pitch black night. Something about my reflection wasn’t so bad. It was faint. The contours of my face just barely visible like some phantom ghost.

The waitress came back with a cup of coffee, and some pancakes.

The sound of the plate clinking against the table was beautiful. One of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard. I thought I could smell the buttered dough of the pancakes. My mouth felt stretched with a smile.

I took a sip of coffee. “No sugar.”

“Made it like you just told me to,” she said, sitting back down at the booth. “No sugah.”

“Mmmm,” I said, picking up the silverware, unwrapping the napkin and laying it on my lap. I dug into the pancakes.

“No syrup?” she asked.

I swallowed, then laughed. “Smelled so good, I forgot.” I picked up the syrup and poured it on the pancakes — not too little, not too much. Just right. It was all about the balance.

“You look a lot happier than you did when you first got here.”

“I just…” I sighed, trying to think of how to put it into words. What was it that I was feeling? What was this thing in the pit of my stomach? “I think I’ve figured out who I am.” The words barely made sense while I was saying them — I wasn’t thinking them so much as feeling them — I didn’t even know where they were coming from. They didn’t sound like they were coming from me, but then again they did.

“I’m not a man or a woman,” I said. I almost expected her to stop me. I expected her to point out that I was an elf, and lemme tell you that would’ve sunken my mood right into the dirt. But she didn’t say that. She didn’t. So I kept going, playing this mood, this feeling, this madness for as long as I could.

“I’m just this being — this spirit — that’s floating around, looking to do something that matters. The outside world told me what matters, but I haven’t told myself, you know? I haven’t figured out why I matter, but that’s alright. I’m just floating around, figuring out what I should do. And the reason I thought I didn’t know who I was was because society couldn’t figure out who I was. Both. Neither. This sentient being who’s able to slip in and out of masculinity and femininity. Because it’s all made up!” I laughed.

“Isn’t that fucking glorious? They make up all this shit about what’s male and what’s female in order to hold you down. Or I guess they’re not trying to hold you down. It’s just that they lack the imagination to figure out what’s going on in this world. Which is to say, we’re all stumbling around confused, and there’s all these things we can do. Why limit what we can do based on our fucking genitals?”

I laughed, taking another bite of pancakes. “These are fucking wonderful.”

“I’m glad you’re happy, now,” she said.

My heart stopped. “Now?”

“You’re going to get some bad news,” she said. “I wanted you to get a happy moment. You’re going to take it well, but you had to be in the mood to take it well.”

I set down the fork and knife. “Why can you people do that?”

“What?” she asked.

“Tell the future,” I said. “I’ve been living with you people for all these years, having to deal with you knowing everything before it happens.”

She gave me a calm, serene smile. I was already blushing, since I was talking as if I didn’t look like an elf — as if I wasn’t an elf in every way that mattered. But she took it all in stride.

She knew, which got right at what was upsetting me so much.

“You’re getting answers to your questions,” the waitress said, turning to walk away. “That’s something, I guess.”

I sat there, watching her walk away, curious about what was to come.

*ring*

That’s when he walked into the diner. He was the god that I could not know. He was the god that I could not kill.

For a moment, I was able to just sit there in awe. His bright blue skin radiated a sort of energy, gave him a fuzzy halo. I could see the bones, but I also thought I might be able to see his blood, in the bright light of the diner. Dark blue liquid seemed to move throughout his circulatory system.

He saw me. I took a sip of the coffee, wishing there was some liquor in it. He approached

“You look frightened.” He slid into the booth, sitting across from me.

“I should be, right? Nevermind. Don’t answer that. I know I should be.”

“Yes and no,” he said, looking at me seriously. “I’m not going to do anything to you, other than tell you the truth.”

My shoulders sagged — my whole body relaxed a little.

“Of course,” he continued, “the truth can be a dangerous thing. It might be wise to worry a little.”

Somehow, in this atmosphere, sitting next to a god I couldn’t know, I didn’t have it in me to worry about the truth. It seemed like there were things that I should be more concerned with, but the truth was also that I just didn’t want to worry.

The truth. The truth? It couldn’t be worse than some of the things I’d seen in my life.

“You’re the apocalypse,” the god said. The waitress walked over to him, setting down a cup of coffee. Without even looking, he picked it up and took a sip.

She walked away, not saying a word.

“An apocalypse,” I said.

“The end of it all,” he said. “Or rather, the end of everything as you know it.”

Somehow, I really don’t know how, my life had turned into a series of destructive events. It was like I was constantly trying to one-up myself — constantly trying to do something that would reak even more havoc on the world.

“A friend once told me that an apocalypse was just a state of mind,” I said.

“Smart friend,” he replied.

“That’s not exactly what you mean, though.”

“Not exactly,” he said. “You’re going to destroy the world. That’s what I mean.”

“Who the fuck are you?” I asked, voice weary.

The god smiled. “An alien god from five-thousand years in the future.”

The air suddenly felt cold. I squirmed in my seat.

“You look uncomfortable,” he said. “Didn’t expect that answer?”

“Didn’t think you were going to answer. That’s…” I took a sip of coffee. “That’s an answer, alright.”

“That’s all you have to say?” the god asked.

I brushed my fingers through my hair. My eyes felt tired, my whole body tense.

An alien god from five thousand years in the future?

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“Because I need to be, George.”

“Feels like you’re not answering my question.”

“Maybe you’re just not asking the right question.”

“What’s the right question?”

“Here’s one,” the god said, “‘Why am I going to destroy the universe?’”

My eyes shifted around the room, confused. I echoed him, “Why… am I going to destroy the universe?”

“Because you have to,” the god said.

“You’re fucking with me.”

“Apologies,” the god said. “I’m a deity. Fucking with things is what I do.”

“You know the future,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “You’re chasing a simulacrum of Evan to the Celestial Wall. Once you get there, you and he will destroy the universe.”

“What if I don’t go?”

“Five thousand years in the future, there’s a galactic republic out there that needs you to. Because you’ve already destroyed the world, you just don’t know it yet. It’s happened in the timeline, it just hasn’t happened to you.”

He leaned in, his eyes lighting up, continuing to speak, “Hundreds of years in your future, a scientist named Lu-An did something he shouldn’t have. Using a combination of science and magic, he tried to see the beginning of the universe.”

“Did that upset you, as a god?”

“It wasn’t about me, or my desires. He did that before I or the civilization that created me even existed. But temporally, my civilization came after his, which meant that its very existence relied on its past. For it to exist, things need to be roughly the same as they were before Lu-An went back in time.”

“But they’re not.”

“They’re not,” he said, echoing me. “He upset something, fundamentally. The butterfly effect. Being there at the creation of the universe, he cause something to shift, ever so slightly, which led to ripples throughout the time stream. It’s for this reason that I’ve dedicated my life to fixing things — in order to make sure that I and the reality I exist in continue to live. For anything else to happen would be temporal genocide.

“There’s no way you can make things exactly as they were.”

“Not exactly,” he said. “But we lucked out, because the universe occasionally reboots itself — these reboots, which you think of as apocalypses. Or simply ‘The Apocalypse,’ since you don’t have the temporal breadth to think of multiple apocalypses. The breaking of the Celestial Wall is an apocalypse that’s destined to happen. It’ll flood the world with creative, destructive light. If this happens when it’s supposed to happen, the world will be back on track.”

“When’s it supposed to happen?” I asked.

“Soon. Two days. If it doesn’t happen, trillions will perish.” He sat and thought about it for a second. Then he changed his tune: “No, that’s not quite right, actually. Trillions won’t even be born.”

“Not being born into this reality,” I muttered, “doesn’t seem like such a bad fate.”

“That’s easy to say once you’ve been born,” he told me.

I decided to shift the focus of the conversation. “You said you dedicated your life to fixing things. How? How could you reshape the world so that it did what it was supposed to?”

“Elves,” he said.

“Elves?”

“The elves,” the god told me. “They aren’t supposed to know the future.”

I sighed, gazing at my ugly dark reflection in the coffee. “Why do they? How?”

“I changed their minds,” he explained. “Went back to the beginning of humanity, and created a race that could stand separately from them. A Supercomputer several hundred years in the future figured out all the variables — every little thing that would need to happen in order for your world to break the Celestial Wall when it needed to. I then implanted computers into the brains of every elf I could — computers so small they couldn’t be detected. The computers self-replicated, finding their way into every elf I hadn’t personally infected. These computers linked up to the Supercomputer, showing them pictures of the future that was supposed to happen.”

“So they couldn’t actually see the future,” I said.

“No,” he said. “They only saw the future that I wanted them to create.”

“I couldn’t see the future…” I said.

“But you imagined it,” he said. “You did see the future, because your life became the future. Every single person who listened to the elves created the future by believing in it. By believing in destiny, you made it so.”

I dug my palms into my eyes, trying to process everything he was throwing at me. “It didn’t always work. It didn’t always work.”

“With so many variables, it couldn’t,” the god said. “Even a computer that advanced couldn’t work out every detail. Living beings are too entropic. Entropy always beats extropy, when everything’s said and done.”

“Which meant your computer had to be wrong.”

“Which meant the computer had to recalibrate,” the god said. “Using the knowledge it could gain from every brain it had infected, it had to figure out how the current reality could become the reality it needed to become. Accounting for these constantly shifting variables — and punishing the brains that disobeyed by disconnecting them from the system — made destiny real.”

“My brother,” I said, banging my head against the table, leaving it there, unable to address the reality around me. “He was supposed to be the hero. If he hadn’t gone and killed himself, he would have–”

“He would have been a hero,” the god said. “You and him were supposed to ride together.”

“Together?” I asked. “I never knew that. I never knew…”

“That you were supposed to be with him,” the god said. “You were.”

I rubbed my temples. That hit me harder than the ‘calling me the apocalypse’ thing had.

“No lies,” the god said. “I need you to end the world, George. It makes sense that you’d want to know why. I have no lies to tell or secrets to keep. Clearly I’ve been honest so far in this conversation, and I promise I’ll continue to be. So ask away.”

“How did you replace Val when he’d died?” I asked.

“Robot,” the god said. “Name’s untranslatable. You can call him Monster.”

“The dragons,” I said. “Was that you?”

“My people,” he said. “The aliens who worship me. The Death Cult served our purposes, and so we sent dragons back in time to them.”

“The ritual was necessary?”

“Yes,” the god said. “The human soul wasn’t needed for the machine, but the Death Cult needed to believe what they needed to believe. If the ritual hadn’t been hard, people wouldn’t have attached importance to it.”

“They’re trying to stop using dragons,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter so much, anymore.”

I leaned back. “The god that I cannot know.”

“What?”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? ‘The god that I cannot know.’”

“I’m the god of sciences so far in the future, you’ve no chance of figuring out what the fuck I’m supposed to be the god of.”

I took another sip of coffee, nodding my head.

He leaned in. “You’re taking this better than anyone would expect you to.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I said. “Someone who can predict the future should know well enough to expect it.”

“True,” he said. “It is odd, though. Not shocking, but just a little off.”

I sighed. “To be completely honest, I don’t really feel like myself. I think I’m dissociating.”

“Better that than doing anything drastic.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Destroying the world isn’t drastic?”

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter

5.2

I woke up on the floor. It was soft — plush. I sneezed.

“Where am I?” I mumbled, looking around the room. Lusu was standing there, as well as two elves I didn’t recognize. We were in a bedroom, but I wasn’t on the bed.

The ocean looked at me. “Turns out The Hero has a couple of admirers,” Lusu said.

“We’re in a bedroom,” I asked, putting my hands on the carpet, moving to get up.

“Somewhere to hide from the Elf Guard,” Lusu said.

I looked at the two elves standing on either side of Lusu. The one was dressed in a black sweater and jeans. The other wore a leather jacket with a translucent cape.

“I don’t know why I’m wearing this either,” the elf with the translucent cape said, looking at me like she’s had to explain herself a hundred times. “All I know is that I am wearing this, because it’s what I’m destined to wear.”

“That’s sad,” I said.

“Not really,” Lusu said. “It’s strange, but strange and weird are two different things. Wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah,” the caped elf said, smiling. “I like that.”

I looked over at the bed and saw The Hero there. His arm bled.

“What happened?” I asked, moving towards The Hero.

“The Hero may have fans,” Lusu said, “but you don’t. We were coming here to figure out what we should do — what our game plan should be to stop Evan. We didn’t get very far before the Elf Guard pulled us over and found you. I really didn’t realize the Elf Guard cared so much for the temporally dislocated.”

“Usually they don’t,” the elf in jeans said. “That’s what so weird. It’s like they have a trace on you or something. Name’s Trixie, by the way.”

“Elsa,” the caped elf said.

“He going to be alright?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Trixie said. “I’m sure he’s seen a lot tougher shit in his time. You know, like minor deities.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Deicide isn’t an easy thing.”

“So who the hell are you, anyway? What do the Guard want with you?” Trixie asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what the Guard want with me. Maybe it’s because I’m one of their own.”

“Nah,” Trixie said. “Elves go crazy all the time — even the Guard. You seen some shit you shouldn’t have seen?”

I chuckled — couldn’t help it. “Yeah. I’ve seen some shit I shouldn’t have seen.”

“You seen anything interesting?” Trixie asked.

“Our friends are thieves by trade,” Lusu said. “They want to know if you know any spots that the Elf Guard wouldn’t be able to guard correctly.”

“You don’t speak for me,” Trixie said.

“Am I wrong?” Lusu asked.

“No,” Trixie said. “But that don’t mean you speak for me.”

“Sorry,” she said, hands in the air and head down.

“So, do you know of anywhere that the Elf Guard haven’t been able to protect?”

“Not really,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Sorry.”

“Nowhere?” she asked. “You don’t remember anything good? Before you answer, lemme also make sure you remember that we just saved your life.”

“Sorry,” I muttered. “I don’t know.”

“Trixie,” Elsa said. “We can always–”

“No,” Trixie said.

“But Trixie, we can–”

“You heard what I said.”

“I heard what you said,” Elsa said, “but we can do it now. We’ve got five bodies now, and one of them has an Elf Guard badge.”

“For all the good it’ll do us,” Trixie said. “Face is practically famous in this town.”

“We can just use the badge,” Elsa said. “One of us can use it, and the Elf Guard doesn’t have to show her face. We can do it, Trixie. I’m telling you we can do it.”

“Alright,” Trixie said. “We’ll do it.”

“You guys want to use my badge?” I asked.

“We’re not asking,” Trixie said.

“I–”

“We saved your lives and got shot at ourselves,” Trixie said. “It’s not like that badge is good for legal purposes anymore, anyway. So we’re not asking. You’re just going to give it to us.”

It never was, for me. Held back a laugh. It felt like the wrong time — the wrong place — for a laugh.

“So what, exactly, do you want us to do?” Lusu said.

“That’s simple,” Trixie said. “We want you two to help us carry out a heist.”

— — —

Makeup caked my face: blush, mascara, foundation. Trixie even made a somewhat realistic scar for me to wear.

My impulse was to want to wipe it all away. It just wasn’t me. What was all the shit doing on my face? But of course, I knew better. I had to put up with this shit to get along in society — to have people not notice who I actually was. Or, at least, to see who I looked like.

Lusu, the two elves, and I walked down the street. If I hadn’t been so nervous, I might’ve enjoyed it. The Elf City was beautiful: tall, baroque spiralling upwards, reaching for the heavens. I’d written a couple articles on them, a lifetime or two ago.

Elves would start building them when they were young, knowing what the perfect base was for what they’d later want. Build one floor, then add on, nothing looking out of place, a lifetime’s worth of shifting tastes being submerged under the desire for unity.

There was something beautiful about it, if a little boring. No brick looked out of place.

“They’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching,” the elf said, repeating herself over and over again. She lay in the alleyway, wrapped in a quilt, repeating herself over and over again.

It broke my heart — made me wonder if my life wasn’t the worst in this goddamned awful world.

I’d been lucky to have a friend in Beckett. I’d been lucky to have a sometimes-friend in the Angel of Death. And I’d never gone homeless. I’d had a helluva lot of problems, but never that.

“They’re watching,” the elf said, stopping her repetition suddenly. I stopped in my tracks as she stopped her words. We looked at each other for a moment. There was a spark there, a connection.

I took a cigarette out of my pocket, snuck it in-between my lips, muttering “Fiat lux.” A flick of the fingers, and flame appeared.

“You want a smoke?” I asked the elf, squatting down in the dirty street.

“Don’t smoke,” the elf said.

“I’m sorry, about everything.”

“You’re not real,” the elf told me.

“I’m–”

“Wrong, somehow,” she said.

“I think you’re right,” I said, chuckling. I was a helluva lot of wrong, to tell the truth. Having someone acknowledge that without hate was nice.

“Are you an alien?” she whispered.

I sighed. “No. No, I’m not.”

— — —

The elf handed my my coffee order before I had the chance to make it. I stood there, not saying a word, foolishly surprised. He stood there, apron bulging out with his stomach, stained with coffee.

“What’s the problem?” he asked me, while I stood there dumbfounded. “You gonna take the drink?”

I grabbed the drink out of his hand. “Thanks.”

He nodded his head, then went back to one of the coffee machines, even though no one else was waiting for coffee.

I walked towards Lusu and the two elves. Took a sip of coffee a little too early. Burned my tongue, surprised it’d actually hurt.

Guess this tongue was sensitive.

“They’ll know we’re coming,” I heard Lusu say as I sat down.

“Obviously,” Trixie said.

“You elves are abominable.”

“Obviously,” Trixie said.

Lusu rolled her eyes.

There was something funny about the sight: Lusu the Death Cultist, not worrying anyone around her. That said, they didn’t have anything to be worried about, did they? It wasn’t like she was going to do anything to her. They knew she wasn’t going to do anything to her.

No need for worried looks.

Made it hard to bluff an elf, though.

“They have to not know we tried breaking in,” I said.

“Or they have to figure it out late enough that it doesn’t really matter,” Lusu said.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Trixie said.

“But how do we actually do that? You’re not even sure what’s in the building.”

“No one is, except the Elf Guard,” Trixie said, pointedly looking my way.

“I don’t remember,” I said. “I don’t know that I ever saw inside the tower.”

“I’m just saying, it would make a lot of sense,” Trixie said. “It would explain why the Elf Guard has such a hard-on for you.”

“They want all elves to get rehabilitated back into the time stream,” I said.

“Yeah, but they tend to give up pretty quickly on that one,” she said. “They want you to get better, but they’re not willing to take the time required to make it happen. You either get better real quick, or they let you rot on the streets.”

“Sounds like you care a lot” Lusu said.

Trixie snapped a glare at Lusu. “I don’t like seeing people left to rot in the streets. That a problem?”

“Father?” Lusu asked, putting coffee up to her lips. “Mother? A sibling, a kid, an ex of some sort? Who got lost in the time stream?”

Trixie leaned back in her chair, folding her arms. “Disconnection runs in the family. They all dissociate, lose themselves.”

I scratch my head.

“Of course, you don’t look all that crazy,” she said.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” I said.

“You really got no idea why the Elf Guard wants you so bad?”

“Wish I did,” I said.

— — —

Trixie and I stood outside the place we were trying to break into. She had no idea what was inside; me neither. But the way she figured it, something so heavily guarded had to have value.

Made sense to me, but we had to figure out what was inside before we thought about stealing it.

So Trixie and I stood outside the place, across the street, leaning against a wall and just talking. Trixie wore my clothes and I wore hers. They felt strange, but I’d gotten used to strange.

“Fiat lux,” I said, lighting a cigarette.

“Cold?” she asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “You never get cold in this outfit?”

“I do get cold,” she said, “but I like it. Makes me feel alive.

“Huh,” I said.

“What?” she asked.

“Just makes me feel cold,” I said, taking a drag. “So what’s the plan?”

“We watch.”

“That’s the plan?” I asked. “You learn a lot by watching, but I thought…”

“What’d you think?”

“Thought you had a plan,” I said.

“My plan was to use your Elf Guard knowledge,” Trixie said. “But clearly you got jack-shit of that, so this is my back-up plan.”

“To watch,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Not sure you can call watching a plan. Sounds like you had one plan, it didn’t work, so now we’re sitting here trying to come up with another plan.”

The two of us stood there like that, talking but not really saying anything, watching the building ahead of us. It did look pretty conspicuous, and I was surprised that more people didn’t spend time looking at it. Instead, a lot of the elves had their gazes planted firmly on the ground, walking from one place to another in their tattered suits and timid dresses.

I stood there, taking a real good look at the building, figuring Trixie and I might be the only ones really bothering to look at the thing before us.

It was a silo, interesting in that there wasn’t anything concrete about it: no corners, no cracks, no edges, no character. It was a steel thing, about three stories high — high enough to be normal, low enough to be normal.

But the shape of the thing was strange. Felt a bit of vertigo, like looking at it for too long convinced me of its unreality.

Half an hour passed, Trixie and I pretending to say things but really saying nothing at all. Nobody’d left and nobody’d come. We just sat there, floating through life. I actually liked it a lot — the waiting. When you were waiting for something to happen, there wasn’t so much to worry about. Your task was to stand there, not to do things.

Would’ve been easier if I could just be a passive observer in life. Would’ve been easier than having to fuck and kill and run and love.

I wondered if that was the key to paradise — inaction.

Trixie looked beautiful in my clothes. I wondered what that said about me. I mean, I just couldn’t like my clothes when they were on me. But when they were on someone else? They just looked so damn beautiful.

Ironically, she looked so good in my clothes that I wanted to take them off of her. I imagined myself…

No.

The mission.

We were standing in front of the creepy silo, waiting for something to happen. Because something had to happen, right?

We were floating, right now. Existing. It was nice to think of that as enough.

I glanced over at the silo. Nothing had changed.

It was important not to keep an eye on the silo. After all, if the elves knew something was going to happen — if anything suspicious happened in the future — they could use that information now to look at anyone acting suspicious.

So Trixie and I had to act as normal as possible.

They couldn’t hear us, though, so I felt comfortable asking, “You know what’s going to happen in the future.”

“Obviously,” she said.

“It’d be nice if you told me.”

“You know I can’t,” she said. “Kind of a dumb question to ask. You used to hide the past from people, too. Until you went and did whatever you did that caused you to become disassociated from time.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I felt myself getting ready to think about that — about how I kept finding myself in other identities, in identities I didn’t want. But I didn’t have much time at all to think about it, because I saw Trixie clutch her head.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Head hurts,” she said.

Her eyes grew wide, so I asked again, more seriously, “What’s wrong?”

“The time stream,” she said. “Behind you, not supposed to happen.”

I turned around and saw an elf walking towards me.

“No. Shit. What the fuck are you doing?” she asked.

I grabbed her arm. “Let’s go.”

“That’s not what I’m supposed to do!” she hissed.

“Let’s go,” I said, pulling her up.

She got up. The elf was getting closer.

“You don’t know who he is?” I asked.

“No clue.”

“This ever happen before?”

“What?”

“Not knowing the future.”

“No.”

The man barked at us, “Freeze!”

I did. Trixie did, too.

“Turn around,” the elf barked.

Trixie did, slowly. I followed her.

The elf had a gun pointed at our heads.

“Just fucking kill me,” I told the elf, laughing. “Seriously, just fucking shoot me.”

The elf stood there, emotionless.

“You need me to threaten you?” I asked. “Is that it?”

I reached into my pocket, pulled out the gun. I couldn’t shoot him, not really. But he didn’t know that.

Or did he? He didn’t even flinch. Maybe he still knew what was going to happen, even if Trixie didn’t. I wanted to shoot him.

He began walking towards me.

Fuck it. Shoot him.

But I only had one bullet left, a bullet that could save the world, stop the apocalypse.

My mind wanted my finger to move, but it didn’t.

The elf smacked me across the head with the butt of his gun.

I hit concrete. Hard.

— — —

The Angel of Death stood in the gas station bathroom, wings furled. I saw her in the reflection of the mirror. I gripped the gas station’s sink.

The place smelled so awful. I felt bad for dragging such a beautiful thing into such an awful stink hole.

“It’s time to come with me,” she said. “I can bring you to a better place.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “No, no, no.”

“George, you’ve wanted this for a long time.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I have, but you didn’t take me then, remember? Do you remember me trying to hang myself, and what you said?”

“I do,” she said.

“You wouldn’t let me kill myself then, and dammit I’m not going to let myself die now.”

“This world is dying, George.”

“I’m not ready to go!”

“Every era thinks it’s nearing an apocalyptic age. I’ve always found that interesting — decade after decade, century after century, people were convinced that the apocalypse was coming to claim them. Probably some sort of desire to see the completion of something. Because that’s when something gains value: when it’s finished. That’s when we can determine whether something was a worthwhile endeavor. Of course, the apocalypse never came until now.”

“Right,” I said, looking over at the toilet, which was filled with puke. I leaned over and flushed it. The Angel of Death did me the favor of not looking at it — not even reacting to it.

“I know a place where you can be safe,” she said, “I know a place where you can survive.”

I sighed. “This is my destiny. The world’s going to end, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well, I guess I’d like to be here til the end,” I said.

— — —

My back felt cold. So did my wrists, bound by metal.

My eyes snapped open and I saw a metal grating above me. A fan whirred softly, blowing ice cold air into the room.

I felt so damn cold. Tilted my head up a few inches, so that my chin touched my chest.

I was naked. Pulled against the restraints on my arms and legs. No go.

“Bad dream, my sweet?” a heavily accented voice asked. Turned my head, only to see a man in an apron and black bask. “Go back to sleep. Sleep, and all this will be over when you wake up.”

A sharp pain in my neck.

A needle.

The cold embrace of sleep.

Next

Previous

5.1

Lusu drove, while The Hero sat in the passenger seat. They let me sleep in the back, because I’d seen so much.

I dreamed. It was a better way of living.

— — —

The Celestial Wall peaked over the horizon. It was beautiful, in a terrifyingly sublime sort of way. I knew I shouldn’t be looking at it, but I did.

I drove and drove. Val sat in the passenger seat, sleeping. Eventually, we reached a river, which ran not that far away from the wall. A couple of tents were camped out nearby. The road turned into a bridge, which ran across the span of the river. Somehow I knew better than to just try driving over it.

I parked the car and got out, leaving Val to sleep. By the time I’d made my second step towards the bridge, I’d heard a whistle. It almost sounded like a bird, but I knew enough to recognize it as human. I turned around, but couldn’t see anything.

Another sound. This one more like a whooping call.

“They’re just trying to scare you away!” said a voice. I turned around again, so that I could take a look at the river. There was a long-haired man swimming there. His whole body was like a kaleidoscope, blues mixing with greens mixing with reds and purples and oranges. The various colors swirled all over his body.

He looked relaxed, which surprised me.

“Maybe I should be scared away,” I said. “Isn’t that river dangerous? That’s what I’d always heard.”

“What are you worried about?”

“Heard there was a sea monster that protected the Celestial Wall.”

The swimmer smiled, glancing off to the side. “That’s not really true. It’s a little true, but not really.”

“Are you the monster?”

He shook his head no.

“If you were a monster, you’d probably lie to me, wouldn’t you?”

“Come a little closer, and I’ll tell you what the true monster is.”

I shook my head. “That doesn’t seem very smart.”

A streak of water flew out of the river, slapping me across the cheek. Then it fell, laying inert.

“The river is the monster,” the swimmer said.

My cheek smarted, so I rubbed it. “It doesn’t attack you, though.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Do you control it?”

The swimmer shook his head ‘no’ again.

“So what’s the deal?”

“You’re afraid of it,” the swimmer said. “That’s your problem. That’s what you have to fix.”

I held back a smile.

After everything I’ve been through? Fighting destiny, almost getting shot, arguing with the Angel of Death? Water is what I’m supposed to be afraid of?

Then again, it wasn’t the water I was supposed to be afraid of. No, looking out just a little into the distance — past the river and just before the Celestial Wall — I saw Hostem’s house. I saw the house of the god whose actions had taunted humanity for so many years.

I saw my creator. I saw the creator of us all.

I looked back at the car, towards Val. He was still sleeping, but he’d slept enough, hadn’t he? Isn’t this what I’d brought him back from death for? Isn’t this what he’d been fighting and training for, so many years?

I didn’t have to cross the river. I didn’t have to do much of anything, at this point. The reason destiny had brought me here was to bring Val back to life. That must’ve been it. It must’ve been it.

I began walking towards the car, completely ignoring the river and the wall and the swimmer and the shack. I walked towards the car, shaking, thanking destiny that I didn’t have to cross that river.

I opened the passenger door. Val, who’d been leaning against it, fell onto the grass.

“Val!” I yelled, not so much out of surprise as frustration. “Val!” I crouched down, putting two fingers less than an inch under his nose. He was still breathing. His chest rose and fell, so I shook him a little.

“Val!” I yelled again, looking at him. “This is what you’ve been waiting for. This is what your whole life has been leading up to!”

No response. I shook him again, even harder.

“I think your friend’s out cold!” the swimmer yelled at me.

I looked over at him with scorn. “He can’t be!”

“He is.” The swimmer said it so calmly.

Val lay on the grass. He was out cold.

I took in a deep breath of air.

It’s just you now, buddy. You, some fucked-up fish guy, and a suicidal god.

“You going to try and stop me from crossing?” I asked the fish guy, as I opened the trunk of Val’s car and tried to figure out what weapon to bring.

“No,” he said. “You’re supposed to cross.”

“Fuck you.” The words almost formed on my lips, but there was no need for them. Destiny had decided to work with me, this time.

Which weapon to bring? The Godkiller seemed to make the most sense, so I took that. Began to walk towards the river, but it lashed out at me — striking my hand and making me drop the sword.

“The river’s not going to let you cross with that thing,” the swimmer told me.

I didn’t bother trying to pick up the car. The swimmer looked at me, his smile challenging.

Back at the trunk of the car, there was a gun. I picked it up, walking towards the swimmer. For the second time, the water lashed out at me. The gun slipped from my hand.

“The river won’t let you cross with that, either,” he said.

Back at the trunk of the car, most of the weaponry seemed useless. The swords and guns couldn’t make it across the river.

I picked up the gas can, walked towards the river.

The swimmer looked at me, no longer smiling.

“Your river’s not going to stop me?”

“No,” he said.

“Why don’t you try and stop me yourself?”

“There are forces in this world more powerful than you and I,” he said.

With the way I felt, I was beginning to doubt it. Somehow, that same rush from back at Demersi’s surged through me again.

Keeping the gas cannister high above my head, I crossed. The swimmer did nothing more than wade, watching me go by.

— — —

*BANG* *CRASH* *BANG* *BANG*

I woke to the sound of gunfire.

The Hero shouted at Lusu: “THE ELF GUARD’S GOING TO GET US!”

“Shut up,” Lusu said.

“YOU CALL THIS DRIVING?” The Hero yelled.

Lusu chuckled to herself, making a hard sharp turn that knocked my head against the car door.

“I’m going to kill you dead,” she muttered to herself. “So help me, I’m going to–”

She kept talking, but I couldn’t hear what she said.I was going back.

Back to the dream.

To a different time.

— — —

I was drenched outside Hostem’s temple. A chill rolled down my spine, looking at it.

It felt like a strange spot to get a chill. The grass here was green — beautiful. The Sun was shining bright. Everything felt like it should be alright. Everything felt like it should be perfect.

Did Hostem really want to kill himself? Why here? Why in a place like this, at a time like this?

The scenery was just so damn unsympathetic. I guess that’s why the chill rolled down my spine.

Clothes sagging towards the ground, shoes squeaking with every step, I made my way towards the temple. Such a simple-looking thing. The roof was thatched, the walls made of straw. It looked so much less intimidating than I’d expected, so much less permanent. It was tall, though. Maybe twenty feet high. Much taller than you’d expect from a thatched hut.

There wasn’t any door to knock on, so I just entered the place.

Spots of light got in through the thatched roof, but not much. The whole place was shrouded in darkness.

“Fiat Lux,” I said with confidence, snapping so that my fingers sparked and a flame shot out of my fingers. The confidence made the flame stay there, billowing in the darkness.

Setting the gas cannister down, I dug my other hand into my pocket, taking out a bag of sunflower seeds. Tore at the top of it with my mouth.

The floor here was stone, which seemed odd. But that didn’t matter. Standing next to the groove, I tipped the bag over slowly, carefully.

One.

Two.

Three.

A small vine sprouted out of the crack. It grew one small leaf, then two, then three. The vine grew upwards, becoming a stalk, looking like a pole shooting out of the ground. It shot up to a little over ten feet, then stopped.

A couple hundred vines shot out of the stalk, weaving their way through the air. Sister vines joined the figure, wrapping themselves around the sturdier vines. More sister vines joined these, and I saw Hostem become a tapestry. Vines grew and twirled and strengthened each other, and before long, I was looking at a thirteen-foot titan.

“You’re here,” Hostem said. Its thick vines criss-crossed over each other, seeming to hide something but in fact being the entirety of that thing before me: the spirit was nothing more than sentient vines, and yet it had done so much, caused so much damage. Hostem, who had gathered his god-children together, to kill so many humans. Hostem, the enemy.

“Yeah,” I said, more softly than intended. “I’m here.”

“And Val?” Hostem asked.

“Outside.”

“Something went wrong,” Hostem said. His voice was deep, unreal. It was without a doubt the most natural thing I’ve ever encountered, yet it sounded so synthetic, like multiple voices merged together, working in an out-of-pitch harmony: uncontainable, uncontrollable, an incoherent cacophony that made all too much sense.

“A lot of things went wrong.”

The god smiled, giving a bit of a sigh. “So many things,” he said, placing his thorny hand on my shoulder. “I know you’re here to kill me.”

A lump sat in my throat. Of course he knew the purpose of my visit. But something about the way he said it — the gloomy sense that it was inevitable — disconcerted me.

“But do you think you can best me?” Hostem asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But if I can’t kill you here–”

“I didn’t ask if you could kill me,” Hostem said. “I asked if you could best me.”

I stood there in silence, not know what to say.

“When it comes to brute force, you’ve bested me — surpassed my efforts, more than would’ve been imaginable a hundred years ago. But can you do better? Can people and elves and all the rest of civilization survive without me?”

I took in a deep breath of air.

Could we? the thought reverberated through my mind. Once a creator was gone, what direction would the world go in? What would be out there to keep everything out there? It would be a rudderless world.

Then there was the other thought, the scarier thought, the one that would keep me up for many nights, in the future.

Should we? Once the creator was gone, what would be the point of life? What would be the point of anything — what would keep up going?

Once the creator wasn’t gone, wasn’t that the end? Clearly he hadn’t meant for us to outlive him. Surely we weren’t supposed to kill him. So we were broken creatures — flawed — unable to live up to our perfect potential.

“You’re crying,” Hostem said. He was right.

“I don’t know shit,” I told him. “I don’t know if we could survive without you, or if we should survive without you, or if you’re worthy of our love or our hate, or of any emotions at all. Every time I look myself in the mirror, I don’t know that I’m worthy of anything. But of one thing I am certain. Of this I am certain. You and your children committed crimes against sapient beings. You killed before, and now you want to kill us all, because you’re too weak to live in the world that made you.”

The words didn’t sound like mine. My mind flashed back to all those fever-sweat nights — the depressed mornings — the minutes and hours and days and years where I felt like a worthless sack of shit.

But then I pushed that all away. I felt like Val.

You know something? It felt good.

“It’s a cycle,” Hostem said. “Life and death, creation and the apocalypse. It’s all–”

Fuck your apocalypse,” I screamed, voice cracking. This was the creature that had made my mother. This is the creature that had driven my brother to death. I was fucking done with it.

I bent over and grabbed the gas cannister. Splashed gas all over him, flinging it at him, drenching him in it.

He didn’t try to stop me. He just stood there, unwilling to do much of anything.

In the heat of the moment I didn’t notice how sad he looked.

No, my heart was too busy burning with coal-hot rage.

I snapped, turning off the flame emanating from my fingers.

“Fiat lux,” I said, softly, snapping my fingers so that a spark flew from the fingers and onto Hostem. His whole body shot up in flames.

I stood there and watched as he burned with the glory of life and death and everything in-between.

Next

Previous

Interlude 4

Diamond Dog took a hit off his crack pipe. The familiarity of it calmed him — the quickening of his heart calmed him.

He looked down on the pitch black city; no light.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. Standing here, on the highest floor in the tallest building in the city, he felt proud of the darkness.

The Supercomputer had tried to kill them all — these denizens of the future. But then Oreh had come up with the code to destroy it, and Diamond Dog had killed Oreh. After that, taking control of the city had been easy.

He preferred the lack of light. It spoke to the lack of civilization he was fond of. Nothing mattered, not really. For this reason Diamond found it pathetic. It strove for such greatness, spitting in the face of dead and careless dogs.

If he hadn’t wanted to intimidate all the dark-dwelling citizens, he wouldn’t have lit up this building. But he did want to intimidate them.

The fear was what fed him, wasn’t it? Alone, he was little more than empty nihilism. But the destruction gave him purpose. The destruction allowed him to get rid of the civilization — to fulfill the will of the gods by plunging all two-legged creatures into chaos.’’

A horse-headed minion walked into the room.

Turning his eyes from the darkness of the city to the light of the room, Diamond Dog’s eyes burned a bit. Once they adjusted, he noticed the fear on Horse-head’s face.

Good.

“Sir,” Horse-head said. “Val escaped.”

Diamond Dog didn’t explode. He let his rage simmer. It was better that way.

“How,” Diamond Dog said, “and why?”

“We sent fifteen guys after him. He killed them all.”

Diamond said. “That’s the how, vague though it is.”

“Yes.”

“And the why?”

Horse-head stood, pensive. After a few moments, he said, “Val was too strong.”

Diamond Dog shook his head. “It’s never the enemy’s fault. The enemy is never the why. The troubles that one faces are never the why. The why is a lack of will. They died because they didn’t care enough to live.” He chuckled, but the smile that formed on his face quickly faded. “I understand the feeling.”

Horse-head didn’t speak. He didn’t know what to say.

“We killed the gods,” Diamond Dog said. “We killed all the gods, only to create a new omniscient being — a being of science. But it didn’t matter whether the being was one of science of one of myth. It didn’t matter whether it came from or what it’s original purpose was.”

He continued, “Every omniscient being that’s ever existed has tried to destroy two-legged creatures. The gods just wanted to kill us, while the Supercomputer tried turning us into animals. But time and time again, the two-legged creatures weren’t good enough. Were we really broken, or were we just some damn dolls that the all-knowing thought they could play with? Maybe we had a purpose and failed to achieve it. Or maybe we just never mattered at all.”

“Yeah,” Horse-head nodded, more out of fear than understanding. “That’s a lot of thoughts.”

“It’s no matter,” Diamond Dog said, waving the issue aside. “I have a feeling that someone might’ve gotten to him by now. Let’s get the rest of the men together and–”

The lights went out.

The power — his power — shut off.

He didn’t even like the lights. But the power? That he refused to lose.

He looked down at the city, which was now no worse off than he was.

A rage built up in him, and he grabbed Hors-head’s arm.

“Sir,” Horse-head neighed.

Diamond Dog threw him at the window. Glass crashed, and Horse-head fell.

He screamed.

Diamond Dog smiled. That hadn’t been an act of anger, despite how it might’ve looked . No, it had simply been a matter of tactics.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel was down there, somewhere. Surely they were responsible for stealing the battery that powered the tower. Surely they and their friends would see the fall — at the very least, they would hear the screaming. This, Diamond Dog knew, would strike terror into their hearts.

He couldn’t stop smiling.

— — —

The Kaleidoscopic Angel stood with arms akimbo. They looked up at the matinee theater’s sign. It read, “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.”

The Kaleidoscopic Angel smiled. They looked over at Val, who had his arms around the Angel of Death’s waist. The Angel of Death had her arm around Val’s shoulder, and the two of them looked content.

Val would mumble every once in a while. He chose to do so at that very moment.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel looked over at the Angel of Death. “Care to translate?”

“He wants to know what this has to do with going back to his own time.”

The Kaleidoscopic Angel sighed. “As I’ve previously explained, he really doesn’t want to do that.”

Val mumbled.

“He does,” The Angel of Death explained.

“Assuming that’s truly the case, I’ll take him back as soon as this is all over.”

“And when will that be?”

The Kaleidoscopic Angel smiled. “A minute past midnight.”

The Angel of Death looked around at the city block: no lights were on. Only off in the distance could light be seen, glowing from the tallest building in the city.

“Why here?” she asked.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel slipped a hand into the pocket of his white pants. He pulled out a single key, which slid into the lock on the theater’s front door. He opened the door, then bowed a little, indicating the way for Val and the Angel of Death. “Walk this way.”

The Angel of Death walked; Val followed.

“It’s dark,” she said.

“Quite astute,” they replied.

“If you weren’t an angel of death, I’d kill you,” she said.

“Surely,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said, walking further into the darkness.

The Angel of Death followed him, making her way carefully through the darkness. Val hung on, his hand still at her side.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel pushed a big door open. Val held onto it, so that he and the Angel of Death could pass through.

“Are you going to explain all this?” she asked.

“In a moment,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “For now, I’m content with leaving you in the dark.”

Val mumbled something.

“What’d he say?” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said.

“He insulted you, because of the pun.”

“That’s fair,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “But we’re here. This is your answer.”

The Angel of Death looked at the pitch black room. It wasn’t much to look at, since the place was pitch black.

Val mumbled something.

“What?” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said.

“Another insult,” the Angel of Death explained. “But really, neither Val nor I have any idea what it is we’re supposed to be looking at.”

“Something,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “You’re supposed to see something, but you can’t, because the room’s dark.”

“Astute,” the Angel of Death said.

“The theater needs power. But to get that power, we’re going to need to steal it.”

“And why should we do that?”

“Because if you do, I’ll be able to power the time machine that’ll take you home, among other things.”

“Among other things,” the Angel of Death repeated.

“Trust me,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “You’ll like the end result.”

“Trust you?” the Angel of Death asked, half-laughing. “Why would we ever trust you?”

“Since I’m the guy with the time machine,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said, “and it’s not like you have all that many better options.”

— — —

“Diamond Dog’s tower is the only place in this borough that gets any power,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel explained, walking down the sidewalk. Val and the Angel of Death walked with him, hands linked.

“Why?” the Angel of Death asked.

“He has a battery,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said.

“No,” the Angel of Death said, “What I mean to ask is, why doesn’t anyone else have power in this part of town?”

“Government,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “This part of town had a lot of crime, so…”

“So the government just shut the power down?”

“Sure,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “Whatever works.”

“Sounds like you’re living in a dystopia,” the Angel of Death said.

“A lot of things can seem horrifying, when you’re not living them,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “But then you do start living them, and you see that they’re not so bad after all.”

The Angel of Death wasn’t impressed with the philosophy. “How exactly do you plan on getting past the guards?” she asked. “Val’s too hurt, and he’s lost his sword. He won’t be able to take them all down.”

“I’m this era’s Angel of Death,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. They smiled; that was answer enough.

— — —

The Kaleidoscopic Angel strode towards the tower, in the direction of two guards. One had a horse’s head; the other, a gorilla’s.

Hands in pocket, the Angel kept their eyes glued to the sidewalk. The guards watched closely, but didn’t move. There were many reasons why an Angel of Death might be out at this hour, and the last thing the guards wanted was to start a fight with Death Incarnate.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel kept their cool, pretending to walk by until they were right in front of the tower door, in-between the two guards.

As soon as their foot hit the ground, they whipped out their gun. Kicked gorilla-head’s gun while shooting horse-head in the face.

*BANG*

Horse-head crumpled.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel slammed their foot into gorilla-head’s face. They grabbed gorilla-head’s neck and pulled him close.

Shot gorilla-head in the stomach three times.

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

They dragged gorilla-head’s corpse just to the left of where the doors opened, opposite the hinges. Propped it up so that when the door opened, the cheetah-head that answered didn’t attack the Kaleidoscopic Angel right away.

*BANG* *BANG*

His mistake.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel dropped gorilla-head, pulling the creature to the side. Reached over and picked up cheetah-head’s gun.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel heard footsteps, two more creatures approaching the door.

One hand stuck out and the Kaleidoscopic Angel pulled on it. They grabbed the door and slammed it onto the trapped arm.

Once. Twice. Third time’s the charm. The hand dropped the gun.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel opened the door. Twisted the man’s arm, using him as a body shield. The second assailant hesitated for a moment, not wanting to shoot his partner. The Kaleidoscopic Angel used this moment, slamming their foot against the second man’s face.

The second man crumpled.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel shot the first assailant in the face.

The first assailant crumpled.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel entered the hallway, stepping over the two corpses, ignoring their souls.

There would be time enough for that later. But by then, it probably wouldn’t be the Kaleidoscopic Angel’s job.

They made their way through the long narrow hallway, fighting every animal-headed creature that came their way.

It was all about throwing the enemy off balance — trapping them in tight spaces, making numbers a non-issue. The caution wasn’t entirely necessary, since most of their weapons wouldn’t work against an Angel of Death, anyway.

But a couple of them? Well, life had weapons that could hurt the Angel of Death. It just didn’t know which weapons they were, yet.

And so the Kaleidoscopic Angel made their way down the concrete steps, kicking and punching and twisting their way through the army. Eventually they reached the basement. At this point no one was there, presumably because they’d all joined the fight upstairs.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel ran, colors swirling across their face, struggling to be seen under the blood.

In truth, the battery didn’t look like much. It was the size of a pinkie finger. It was surrounded by a small plastic box.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel shot the box, breaking it. They took the battery, slipping it into their pocket.

With the battery gone, the lights went out.

*BLAM*

A laser shot through the dark air, ripping through the Kaleidoscopic Angel’s left shoulder.

They screamed.

This was one of the weapons that hurt.

Laying on the garage floor, their white pants now dirtied with both blood and grime, the Kaleidoscopic Angel panted, taking in deep breaths of air, trying to hiss the pain out.

The laser gun could be heard, its systems recharging.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel felt dizzy, but they managed to pull themselves up.

They didn’t want to get hit with another laser. If they could just reach the assailant in time…

The weight of their body was part of what allowed them to charge forward, but they felt off-balance. The laser gun was re-charging, but if they could just reach it in time…

*BLAM*

That was the end of the Kaleidoscopic Angel.

— — —

The Angel of Death sat in the alleyway, back against the wall, wings stretching across the wall while her arms were wrapped around Val. She’d heard the Kaleidoscopic Angel fighting two blocks away. She hadn’t intervened.

Val needed her here. Val needed to be protected. Though she couldn’t tell what, something was very wrong.

He shivered. He sobbed.

“What is it?” she asked, voice soft. “What’s got you like this?”

Val mumbled one word: “Evan.” It took everything she had to understand just that.

In the heat of the moment, when he’d found out about Evan, his son’s death had propelled him forward. It gave him power. It made him angry, which made him strong.

But now? Now that he’d fought and bled and had time to really think about it? It made him feel weak, weaker than he’d ever felt. He drowned in sadness, an inability to know what he wanted to do next. Why, if the Angel of Death hadn’t been there–

He didn’t dare think about it.

“What?” she asked him, her voice unsure. “What about Evan?”

Val didn’t say anything. He merely tilted his head upwards, looking her straight in the eye. He took his pointer finger and dragged it across his throat.

“Dead?” she asked.

He shook his head.

It felt like she’d been punched in the gut: her own son, dead. And she hadn’t even been there to collect his soul.

Of course, she’d never seen him, after the birth. It hadn’t feel right, for her to go see him. And she’d always been so busy.

She wished he hadn’t known. She wished she hadn’t known he was the son of the Angel of Death, because what would that do to a person? She knew he was better off for not knowing her — an Angel of Death certainly couldn’t raise a baby. He probably would have been better off never being born.

But she couldn’t even take his soul.

She always thought she’d meet him then. Explain how she didn’t want to be a mother — how she didn’t feel like she could ever be good to a son.

No explanations would be made. Her son was dead, and she couldn’t even do for him the one thing she’d done for so many others.

“And his soul?”

Val looked at her — lost, confused. Even with all the dead she’d seen, she didn’t remember seeing anyone so broken.

There wasn’t time to think about it, though. Because suddenly, she felt something tug at the pit of her stomach. The tug was awful, but there was also a sense of rejuvenation.

She knew the feeling. It was unmistakable.

She wasn’t just the Angel of Death, anymore. She was this era’s Angel of Death. Her powers had returned, which meant that the Kaleidoscopic Angel must be dead.

She stood up. “I have to go, Val. Stay here.”

He looked up at her, forlorn. Still, he didn’t beg her to stay. He didn’t grab onto her leg or whimper at her. She appreciated that. Taking one last look at him, she let out a small, loving smile.

Then she turned, walking towards the tower.

She stopped, as she stood outside the door. She had no idea what had killed the Kaleidoscopic Angel, or how. This meant she had to be careful — cautious.

She looked down at the corpses that lay in front of the door. Pushing them aside, she cracked the door open. It was dark. Unable to see anything, she walked through the door.

She moved quickly but quietly through the hallway of corpses, groping the wall, looking for any sign of trouble. At the very least, the Kaleidoscopic Angel had thinned the herd a little.

She made her way down the stairs, stepping over more corpses. Maybe he’d just gotten too many wounds after all this. Maybe no individual did him in — maybe it was just the whole herd.

The garage, like everywhere else, was quiet. The air conditioning hummed.

Her own breath was loud enough to be heard.

*BLAM*

A laser shot through her wing. She screamed.

Intense pain.

Coming from where?

She heard the sound of the laser blaster firing up again. She charged towards it, keeping her head low, her whole body less able to be shot at — or even seen, in the dark.

But her wings were too big.

*BLAM*

Another beam shot through her left wing. It was useless for flying, now.

Still, she was close enough to tackle the assailant, slamming him into the ground. The two of them wrestled.

The first thing she did was rip the gun from his hands. Tossing it aside, she placed her hand on his throat.

*ZING*

She noticed the laser blade too late.

The assailant jerked an arm away from her grip. He stabbed her in the eye. He moved his arm back to stab her again, but he wouldn’t be successful.

The pain shocked her system — so thoroughly, that she didn’t even think to scream. Instead, she ripped his throat out.

The laser blade *clack*ed against the floor

He lay there, dead.

She sat there for several moments, feeling woozy from the pain — from all the loss of blood.

She turned the laser blade off. Placing her palm on her eye didn’t do much good, but it was something. She stood up and stumbled towards the door. She stumbled up the steps, and through the hallway.

Once outside the tower, she collapsed.

Twenty feet away, the Horse-head that Diamond Dog had thrown out the window splattered on the asphalt. No one noticed.

Next

Previous

4.4

Beckett took a toke of her spliff, withered thumb and pointer finger holding it close to her lips. She blew smoke at the ceiling.

“That’s fucked up,” she said. “God you can’t know, gun that can kill the Godkiller, Death Cult dragon? That’s real fucked up.”

“Yeah,” I said, laying on her sofa. “This whole world’s fucked up, Beckett, and I just don’t know what to do about it.”

“That’s your depression talking,” she said. “An apocalypse doesn’t have to be so bad.”

“You’re the one who told me not to kill myself.”

“Didn’t stop you from trying.”

“But I didn’t, in the end. I didn’t succeed in killing myself.”

Somehow, the silence in this room was a comfort. It blanketed me.

“I’m real proud of you for that, kid.”

A shiver down my spine.

“What’s the difference?” I asked. “Don’t I have to keep fighting? What’s the difference between suicide and an apocalypse?”

She passed the spliff to me, craning her neck towards the ceiling. “It’s different.”

“How?”

She laughed, shaking her head. “It is, George. It’s different because things end when it’s time to end. A suicide is something you do to yourself — an apocalypse is the world dying of old age. Every generation’s had ideas about apocalypse this and fire of death that. You know why?”

I thought about it. Took a deep toke. Let the smoke sit in my lungs, then exhaled.

Why do we all think about this world dying so much? Why are we all so obsessed with the flames?

Seeing the look on my face, Beckett answered her own question, “Because everyone wants to know how it ends, George. We all missed the beginning, so the ending’s the thing that matters. The middle? Fuck the middle. Reviewers never even mentioned the middles of my books. And why would they? The beginning’s the question, the end’s the answer. What the fuck is a middle? Some goddamned mush. No, I wouldn’t expect anyone to care much at all about a middle.”

I passed the spliff back to her. She grabbed it out of my hand and took a puff.

“I guess I’m just not ready for it to end.”

“Why?” she asked me. “What’s so good about this world?”

I sighed. What was so good about this world? I lay there on the sofa, feeling warm. When I stopped thinking about everything, this all didn’t seem so bad. In fact, it felt kind of nice, being here. Beckett was like an anchor to this world, someone I’d known long enough to remind me who I was. And this place — somehow, this place felt more comfortable than my own home.

“You, weed, the stars in the sky,” I said.

She laughed at that. Coughed a little, hacking up smoke.

“Crazy bastard,” she said.

My breath felt slower, more relaxed.

Hadn’t I been here before? Hadn’t I had those moments where I felt better about everything, only to go back into the grime of self-hate. What did I need to stay here? How could I keep my life sane, at least for a little while?

“Maybe the world isn’t so great,” I said. “Maybe it’s just fleeting moments that we fight for, surrounded by dull terror.”

She shook her head, passing the spliff back to me. “The world is what it is. Maybe if you stopped trying to label it, you’d be happier. Good, bad. Who gives a shit? They’re just words — words the world wasn’t born with. Words won’t kill the world. Nah, if I’ve learned one thing in all my years, it’s that words don’t mean shit.”

“Kinda ruins the purpose of words, if they don’t mean anything” I said. “You really only learned one thing in all your years?”

She laughed. “You bastard. If I wasn’t in this wheelchair I’d whoop your ass six ways to Sunday.”

I believed her, too.

“Bet it’s an alien,” she said.

“What?”

“That thing that you met,” she said. “‘The god that you cannot know.’”

“You think it’s an alien?”

“Yeah.”

“You think everything’s an alien.”

“You can’t prove I’m wrong.”

“God can’t be an alien.”

“You don’t think that wouldn’t make some sort of sense?” she asked

I lay there on her sofa, rubbing my forehead. “Shit, I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“You should probably go,” Beckett said, looking at the clock.

I sighed. “Alright. Any reason?”

“Vicky’s going to be home soon.”

“I’d like to see her again,” I said.

“I’m sure she’d like to see you too,” Beckett said, the two of us moving towards her front door. “But it might take you some time to convince her, and you don’t need that shit right now.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “I guess I don’t.”

“Gimme another hug, you stupid bitch,” Beckett said.

I did. Then I walked out the door.

— — —

“Death’s Cove,” the sign read, hanging above the pub’s door. I sighed, entering.

Beckett had told me that Evan was alive. He’d explained Val’s blood sword away, saying something about his father preparing food in the back with it — chopping up a pig drunkenly, but not illegally.

It was all too strange. I entered.

The typical smell hit me the second I came in: booze, sweat, and metal, all mixing together to create a scent that was manly to the point of disgusting cliche. But there was another smell, too. The whole place smelled vaguely anti-septic.

The bar was packed. There wasn’t any room for me to sit.

“You’re not an alcoholic,” Evan yelled at me, while he poured someone else’s drink, “are you?”

I stood there, like a deer in headlights. “No.”

“Sorry,” he said setting down a man’s drink while keeping eye contact with me. There was something odd about him. All the anger had drained from his face — drained from his body. He was so much less troubled than I remembered. “We don’t see many elves in here, but the ones we do tend to have a bad drinking problem. Just know that I’ve got my eye on you.”

“Alright,” I said.

“What’ll you have?” he asked.

“Brandy. Two shots.” I slapped a ten dollar bill onto the table.

“Right,” he said, “coming right up.”

Some big-bellied man growled at me: “This your first time here?”

“Sure,” I said, somewhat meekly.

“I can tell,” he said, foul breath bothering me. “You look uncomfortable.”

“That’s my thing,” I said. “I’m always uncomfortable.”

I grabbed one of the shots Evan had set down on the counter. Swung it back.

“You like drinking,” the man said.

“That’s why I like drinking,” I told the man. “Makes me less comfortable. Things sure have picked up around here, huh?”

“Thought you’d never been here,” the man pointed out.

“I haven’t,” I said, worried my cheeks might be turning red. Think fast, and don’t let him see you sweat. “I have a friend who told me about this place. Told me it was a real dump, last time he visited.”

“Maybe your friend isn’t so reliable,” the man said.

“Maybe,” I said. A shiver rolled down my spine, since the man wasn’t looking me in the eyes at all. Instead, his eyes were focused on my chest. “How long you been coming here?”

“Not too long,” he said.

“So you really don’t know what it’s like, do you?” I asked.

“Sure I do!”

“How so?”

“A friend of mine used to come in here all the time. He told me all about this place. Said it was real successful.”

“And you trust that friend,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe the friend isn’t so trustworthy.”

The man snickered, shaking his head. “You’ve got a real mouth on you.”

“I do,” I said, standing up and beginning to walk away.

“Hey, where are you going?”

“Away from you,” I said. I made my way to the bathroom, heart pounding.

No one else was in there, which was one good thing. I closed a bathroom stall and leaned my head against the door.

That man was hitting on me, because I’m female. I’m a female elf, and that’s never going to change.

I thought back to my old body, my old home. I decided I wanted to go back.

— — —

My heart pounded, as I walked up to my old house. It was a small, one-story place, located outside the city. Fake grass as far as the eye could see — just the way I liked it.

I made my way down the path and up to the front door.

Thinking about it, it wasn’t really my door anymore. Surely it’d been sold — to the bank, or some nostalgic jack-ass who remembered and worshipped Godkiller.

I knocked on the door. Waited a couple seconds, but didn’t get an answer.

Knocked again. This time I heard the footsteps walking towards the door. There was a pause, as the person looked through the peephole. I remember doing that a lot, too. Never experienced it on this side, though. More often than not, I hadn’t answered the knocker.

I opened the door.

Of course, that was the thing — I didn’t actually open the door. I was still standing there, watching the owner of the house open the door.

But the guy who opened the door? George Royce? I’d been him, once.

He stared back at me, blinking.

For the love of a dead god.

I should’ve expected this. I knew I’d switched bodies with the elf, which of course meant that she’d gotten my body. And I knew people were claiming Val had survived, just like I thought he had. Which would mean I couldn’t have been executed for murder, since no one remembered the murder happening.

But still, I hadn’t expected this. In all the mess my life had become, I just hadn’t stopped and thought about it.

“Long time, no see,” my body said, looking at me. I ran my fingers through my elven hair, looking at the human body I’d left behind.

The elf wasn’t acting like she remembered me. It was a smart play — every once in a while I caught some sad fuck snooping around, wondering what’d become of the author who blew all his money on booze and misery. Wouldn’t want to hear one of them talking about the stuff we needed to talk about.

“Long time, no see,” I repeated. I couldn’t think of what else to say.

“Care to come in?” George asked me.

“It’d be my,” I searched for the right word, but couldn’t really find it, “pleasure.”

George gave me a forced smile, moving out of the doorway. I walked inside, keeping my eyes planted on the floor.

“It’s a strange world,” George said.

“It’s a strange world,” I replied.

I looked back at my old body — I mean, I really looked at it. Didn’t look quite so bad, now that I wasn’t living in it. The eyes were less tired — the whole body seemed less exhausted.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she told me, the two of us standing in the hallway. I would’ve felt more comfortable sitting down somewhere, anywhere. But we had so much to talk about. I felt like we couldn’t delay the conversation for a second longer.

“The truth,” I said. “Tell me what you’re thinking. Then I’ll tell you what I’m thinking, and we can maybe come to some sort of,” I reached for words, but couldn’t find them. “I don’t know. But maybe we can figure something out.”

“I can’t see things anymore,” George said. “I can see the present, I guess. But the future — the future’s gone.”

“I’m starting to think the same thing.”

“Do you have any idea what happened?”

“You mean, who the blue creature was? I’m not sure. He said he was a god that I couldn’t know — that I couldn’t kill.”

George sighed. “That’s more than I found out in centuries.”

I rubbed my temples. “I’m sorry.”

“Your head hurts?” she asked me.

“Yeah.”

“Readjusting to the timestream,” she explained. “Do you see the future yet?”

“No,” I said. But then I stopped to think about it — Lusu’s father with his voice like a trumpet horn. “Well, yes. Once. But for the most part I’ve been stuck in the past. The dreams of it get longer.”

“You’re adjusting,” she said, “like some goddamned adolescent.”

“I feel pretty goddamned, to tell you the truth.”

“I’m sure you are, George,” she said to me.

I didn’t know what to make of that — her calling me George, I mean. She was George, wasn’t she? Wasn’t I Sam?

“They know you’re disconnected from the timeline,” I said. “They figured it out within a minute of seeing me.”

“That’s not a surprise,” she said. “Doesn’t matter much, anyway. I think I’m stuck in this body for forever.”

“Probably,” I said.

I thought I saw something dash across the window.

“What?” George asked me.

I rubbed my eyes. Could I believe my eyes? Could I believe my very own eyes, which had been wrong in the past? What did it even matter what I saw, if all of reality–

*CRACK*

George’s door — my door — got ripped off its hinges. I turned around and saw Evan there, looking mad as hell. Strong as hell, too. Was that even physically possible?

“Evan,” I said.

I didn’t bother saying another word. I saw the look in his eyes. He was angry — crazed.

I darted towards the window that I’d seen him run across only moments before.

He raced towards my old body.

I heard a scream.

Turned around and saw myself turned inside-out. My own blood was on the floor. My own blood was on my own floor and in a weird way I was lucky because the whole damn thing was an out-of-body experience.

“You,” Evan’s voice growled, sounding nothing like him at all, really, “have disturbed,” it continued, and I knew something was wrong, so very very wrong, “the timeline.

*CRASH*

I jumped through the window, making my way onto my own lawn.

Dear god, dear god.

Of course, I didn’t really have anyone to pray to, did I? No god left alive to answer my prayers, no one except the unknowable unkillable god.

I tripped on my own foot.

Hit the grass, hard. Turned around, got my hand on my gun. It felt cold — good. Made me feel safe.

Evan was nearly on top of me, just a couple feet away, panting, his eyes as mad as his heart, as mad as this world, as mad as all the goddamned killing destiny had found necessary.

“What’s the timeline?” I yelled, staring at Evan’s cold eyes.

Evan didn’t seem to have any emotion on his face, as he said, “Where we all live.”

“Are you really Evan?”

Evan smiled, then shrugged.

“You’re afraid of the gun,” I said.

Evan didn’t move. There wasn’t any emotion on his lips, but I thought I might’ve seen a glimmer in his eyes. He knew the gun well enough to respect it.

“You should be,” I said. “Are you a part of the end of the world?”

He didn’t say anything. He just stood there, silent, which was the creepiest thing he could do.

“You’re not killing me,” I said. My chest felt heavy. I was out of breath. It wasn’t even the running or the jumping or even the fright. It was the unbelievable gut punch: That’s not Evan. Maybe it never was. But if Evan was never the Evan I thought I knew, did that make him anything other than Evan? Or did that just make me ignorant?

“Are you heading to the Celestial Wall still?”

For the first time, I saw true emotion spread across Evan’s face. It looked unnatural — the corners of his lips rising upwards, moving towards his ears, fighting gravity to express satisfaction at something so grisly and awful.

He didn’t say anything. But that expression of his was more than enough of an answer.

He turned around, running off into the night.

I had a purpose again. More than anything else, I needed to stop Evan from destroying the world.

— — —

I banged on Lusu’s door, looking at the dead dragon knocker I’d shot a bullet through who knows how long ago.

It took her a minute, but I kept banging, unable to let up, unwilling to let up.

She opened the door. “You look like a mess.”

“Evan,” I said, panting, looking around, feeling manic. “He… he killed me. He killed me.”

“What are you–”

“I went over to my old house and saw the elf that I’d switched bodies with. But she’s dead and I’m here and that crazy machine you were telling me about… I think it’s turned into Evan. I don’t know how… maybe Evan really did die. Maybe he never was alive. I don’t know. I don’t know!”

Lusu grabbed onto my shoulders. “Calm down. You have to calm–”

“Calm down!” I roared, practically laughing. “This world is insane. It’s fucking insane, and I have to live here!”

“Not for much longer, by the looks of it.”

“You’re joking!” I yelled, resting my head on her shoulder. “You’re joking, and this whole damn world–”

“What’s she raving about?” The Hero asked, from inside the house. “Still not able to handle getting disconnected from the timeline?”

“She’s saying that someone we know killed a man,” Lusu said.

“You believe her?”

“I don’t know,” Lusu said. “I think so.”

“Why wouldn’t you believe me?” I asked. “Why wouldn’t you–”

“Shh,” she said, “Let’s come inside.”

I took my head off her shoulder. She closed the door, and the three of us walked into her living room. I noted the Godkiller book, laying on the sofa, mocking me.

“You’ve been through a lot,” Lusu said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you’ve been through a lot,” Lusu said. “That can do things to people.”

“You know I haven’t lied so far. You know I switched bodies with that elf, and you know that somehow they replaced Val with a machine. You know I’m not–”

“I know,” she said, looking me in the eyes. Her steely gaze calmed me down a little bit. There was a strength there. I wasn’t sure if it was trust in me — but I knew I could trust it. The Hero, on the other hand, looked a little concerned.

“I know you’ve told the truth up to now,” she said, “but I also know that a lot of strange things have happened in your life — not just now, but in general. So I want to make sure they haven’t broken you like I would expect them to. I want to make sure you’re okay.”

I kept my eyes glued on the floor. “How can I prove a thing like that?”

“Are you okay?” she asked me.

I took in a deep breath. “Yeah. There’s a lot going on right now, but I am.”

“Then tell me what happened.”

I did. The best thing of all was that she listened to me explain the insanity of it all.

“I believe you,” she said. “I believe you when you say that we have to go to the Celestial Wall. Do you?” she asked, looking at The Hero.

He grabbed the bridge of his nose, rubbing it, looking tired and torn. “I don’t know if I believe you. But I sure as hell ain’t going to miss a chance to save the world. And if you are crazy, well, I guess I don’t have anything better to do.”

I nodded my head, breathing a sigh of relief. “Guess we’ve gotta go then.”

The only thing that made me sad was that I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to Beckett, or Vicky. Maybe in the next life, if not in this one.

Next

Previous

4.3

I dreamed. It was a better way of living.

It was maybe an hour after Val had been resuscitated — an hour after he’d been brought back to life.

I drove, while he recovered. I hadn’t said too much, since I didn’t want to startle him. He’d been in something of a daze.

But I had to ask: “What was it like?”

“What?”

“You died, Val,” I said. “What was it like?”

“Noth–” he stopped for a second, then continued, “Nothing. I don’t know if I don’t remember or if nothing was actually there. It– it didn’t feel good.”

“The Angel of Death didn’t take your soul,” I said. “Maybe that’s it. That doesn’t mean anything, you know? Doesn’t mean there’s nothing after death. You might just not’ve gotten to the something part.”

“Yeah.” He rolled down the car window, sticking his head out a little. His short blond hair danced in the wind.

I was thankful to see a gas station coming up. My stomach growled. Hadn’t eaten in a while. Hadn’t really slept, either.

I mean, I hadn’t been moving much, but being around the Angel of Death made me tense. Damn tense.

I parked the car outside the station. “You want to come with me, or would you rather wait in the car?”

“I’ll wait,” Val mumbled.

“Alright,” I said. I got out and walked towards the gas station, stepping over the curb and opening the gas station door. A bell rang and the gas station attendant looked at me.

“Pump three,” I said, taking out a twenty and slapping them on the counter. I looked at the snacks that lay below on the gas station shelf. It all looked so good: cookies, candy bars, chips. I grabbed two small bags of chips, a bag of sunflower seeds, and a candy bar. Slapped another five onto the counter.

The gas station smiled at me. His hair looked a little thin. “Hungry?”

“Yeah,” I said, cradling the sunflower seeds and the two chip bags in my arm while I opened the candy bar. “Very.”

I took a bite. Really hadn’t realized how hungry I was. Everything had been so insane and–

“Where you going?” the attendant asked.

“Far,” I said, mouth full of chocolate. It was filled with caramel, which made it harder to talk.

The attendant let out a bit of a chuckle. “Not much farther left to go.”

I took another bite of the candy bar. “Friend and I want to see the Celestial Wall.”

“Ah,” he said. “You’re one o’ those nuts.”

“Yeah,” I said, struggling to speak, “one o’ those nuts.”

“You’re not going to find any more stations on the way there,” he told me.

“Really?”

“Wouldn’t have said it if it were a lie,” he said, chuckling some more.

I slapped another five on the counter. “Better fill the gas cannister, too.”

“Yep,” he said. “You better.”

I left the gas station, opening the door so that the bell rang again. Threw my candy wrapper into the trash can and walked towards the car. Val sat there. He looked off, still.

We were only a day’s ride away from The Celestial Wall. I hoped Val would be ready. I needed him to be ready, just like the world needed him to be ready.

But it didn’t look good. Damn it, it just didn’t look good.

I threw the chip bags into the car. “If you want some chips, they’re all yours.”

Val grunted. I filled the car’s tank, then filled the gas cannister. Got back in the car and drove off. Val hadn’t eaten any chips. I rode for a couple hours.

Passed by two more gas stations on the way to the Celestial Wall.

— — —

I woke up — not in the car or in my bed or in some godforsaken burned-down wheat field.

I woke up on Lusu’s couch. I stared at the beautiful high ceiling. Made me feel like I was in a temple. I slapped my cheek a couple times, trying to get back into this world, into this timeline.

Damn. I really got lost in the timestream, that time.

I wondered how long I’d been out for.

Shiver rolled down my spine. There was something creepy about being left alone in someone else’s living room. Especially Lusu’s. The last time I’d seen her here, she’d been crying. The time before that, I’d pegged her as a potential murderer.

I rolled off the couch, landing on my feet. Felt sore. Must’ve been out for a while.

I looked around the room. Had a nice chandelier, which I hadn’t noticed last time. A murder investigation sometimes makes you forget to notice the little things. Which is dumb, since it’s the little things that help you crack the case.

I noticed my book, Godkiller, still sitting on the bookshelf. Shook my head, walking into the kitchen.

Lusu stood there, pouring herself a drink. She fought a smirk when I entered, setting the bottle on the table. “You’re up. That’s funny. I thought you were dead.”

I smirked back. “You often leave dead guys laying on your couch?”

“The Hero took Val’s bed, so that seemed the best place to put you.”

“What happened back there?”

She rubbed her hand with her nose. Took a sip of the drink. “I don’t know. I… What’ll you have?”

“I don’t much feel like drinking right now.”

“I’m alright with drinking alone,” she said, “but only if I’m actually alone. If I’m in someone’s company, I expect them to drink with me.”

“I want to go for a drive,” I said.

She set down her glass and gave me a look. “You just got lost in the timestream for three days.”

“Wow.”

“You really think driving’s a good idea?”

“I guess not,” I said. I took her shot glass and poured myself a shot. Knocked it back. “I’ll go for a walk.”

“What are you so desperate to do?”

“I need to clear my head.”

“George, we need to talk. That dragon probably turned on us because Val was dead. The instructions were invalid, so–”

“I know. I know that Val’s dead.” I wiped sweat off my brow. “I just wish I understood. Wish I knew. Who killed Val. How did he… Why did everyone… I don’t know,” I said. “That’s why I’ve gotta go for a walk.”

“I’ll be here,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, walking out the room.

— — —

I was half-surprised to see that Stellavia’s temple was still open. I was even more surprised when I walked inside.

The room was dark, people sitting in the pews, watching a woman dancing at the front of the Church. I stood at the end of the aisle, watching her. She danced like Stellavia had danced, all those years ago. She danced like I remembered Stellavia dancing, back when everything seemed so awful.

Then again, wasn’t everything better then? The past was always better than the present — it was when we’d had less times to make mistakes. I always wished I could live in the past — make the mistakes, instead of regretting them.

But I was projecting. That wasn’t what her dance meant to communicate at all. There was a sort of… I don’t know. Grace? Art?

She was beautiful, and I felt like I was a part of her. That’s how I should’ve felt, after all. If she was a representation of the universe, I was a part of her, in a way.

But that wasn’t right. Stellavia was supposed to be dead. She was dead, dammit.

Then again, hadn’t Val come back to life, only to die again?

Maybe I’d gone mad. Maybe this whole world was my creation.

I don’t know. How could I know? Everything came back to haunt me, and I was too crazy to stop fighting.

She’s alive. Stellavia’s alive.

I was crying. At this point it didn’t really matter, did it? I was a cryer. I was sad. Through it all, that part of my identity had always remained the same.

Stellavia danced in the dim light of the temple, lithe limbs flailing about. Her whole body sparkled with stars, with life.

If only the real universe had been half so pretty, half so inviting.

The lights rose, so I quickly brushed the tears off and made my way to an empty pew.

People slowly poured their way out of the temple. It was an interesting sight to see. Some fled, others shuffled. A few mingled, but before long everyone had left. Only Stellavia remained.

She hadn’t left the temple often, when I’d known her.

“I didn’t realize you were alive,” I told her, yelling across the span of the temple.

Something about her looked strange — plain. In the light she’d looked so beautiful, but that didn’t matter. She was alive. She was alive.

Dead God, she’s alive.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I said. “It was good to see you again. Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t miss you. Sometimes I thought the pain would go away. But you know something? It didn’t. Until now, of course. Now it’s like the pain never even existed.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, staying on the stage, not getting any closer, “but I don’t know you.”

I laughed. That should’ve bothered me, but I laughed. How important could my identity be, in the face of this? How important could my identity be, compared to the miracle of a friend — a necessity — being brought back to life.

“I switched bodies with an elf,” I said. “I don’t know why I thought you’d recognize me. Look, it’s not important. I’m just an admirer — an admirer as we all should be. And I’m just so happy to see that you’re alive, that you’re well. You know I thought this was the end of the world?”

She didn’t respond to what I was saying, which I found odd. But I didn’t want to be ungrateful for the miracle. I didn’t want to push at the illusion so that it broke, so I kept talking, talking to fill the silence, the void.

“I’m sorry I neglected you for all those years. I’m sorry I… it was just hard to watch you, sometimes. It was hard to believe anything could be beautiful after,” I couldn’t find the words I needed. “Life can seem so miserable, but it isn’t really. Because there’s moments like this — moments where everything you thought was wrong ends up being right. Doesn’t matter how many times someone dies. They always come back to life, often as something else.”

Stellavia’s silence would’ve deafened even the strongest of ears. What was she thinking? What did her thoughts look like? What would they sound like, if vocalized?

The two of us sat there, her not saying anything and me obviously having said too much. Couldn’t she recognize a miracle when she saw it? Couldn’t she be happy that we’d been reunited, that we could happily be friends?

I got up out of the pew and began walking towards her.

“Don’t get any closer,” Stellavia said.

“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong?” I kept moving closer.

“I told you not to get closer.”

I kept walking towards her. “I came to worship you. Is that so wrong?”

“Look, I don’t know you.”

“You know me.”

“I said I don’t know you.”

“Same old man — new flesh,” I said. “It’s me, Stellavia. It’s me, George.”

She stood up when I was within a few feet of her. And it was then I realized what was wrong — the light wasn’t hitting her body properly. Her skin didn’t have that depth — that depth which suggested eons of space, which suggested that I could stick my hand in and find nothing but the chill of ancient galaxies.

She’d been painted on. She was paint. Mostly painted black, with white dots where stars should be.

She was a joke — a spectacle — a mockery — a bastardization — a pale imitation of the universe that we’d made in an attempt to recreate the real thing. But you couldn’t recreate the real thing, could you?

There was no going back. The moment had passed. The spark was gone.

I grabbed her arm.

“What is this?”

“I’m not Stellavia,” she said.

“What…” My thoughts stumbled. I couldn’t think of what to say.

“Get your hands off me!” she yelled.

I let her go — no complaints.

“How dare you,” I yelled. “How fucking dare you.”

“Get out of here,” she said.

You finally try and accept the world, after all the grief and misery it caused you. And this is what happens?

This is the fucking result?

“You bastard. You sacrilegious–”

“Get out of here.”

“Fuck you,” I roared. “How fucking dare you come into her house and mock her like this.”

I didn’t want to admit it, but tears rolled down my face. I was just so damn mad.

“It’s worship,” she whimpered. “If you don’t like it, leave.”

I spat at her feet.

I left.

— — —

I stood before Beckett’s house with its chipped white paint and its missing roof tiles. I stood before it and felt comforted.

*knock* *knock* *knock*

Breathe in, breathe out.

Stellavia’s still dead. Stellavia’s still dead and it’s all my fault. I should’ve told the world was Val Rador really was. I should’ve said that Blake and Val were one of the same. Maybe if I’d warned her, things wouldn’t have gotten so damn far.

Beckett opened the door. Looked up at me, confused.

“You’re that elf bitch from the hospital,” she said.

My face sank. But I’d expected this. There was nothing to be upset about, since I’d expect this.

“Glad you’re not in a loony bin coma, or whatever,” she said. It was strange, hearing her talk to me, like I’d never heard her talk to me before. But I was still just happy to hear her voice. “You’re not crazy, are you?”

I shook my head. “Beckett, it’s George.”

She looked at me askance. “The George I knew was flat-chested, human, and often drunk.”

“Will you accept one out of three?” I asked, my voice soft. “I’ve had an interesting day.”

As soon as I said ‘interesting’, her expression changed. She seemed to recognize me, like I’d known she would. I hoped it was the details of my life that defined it — not the big picture.

“George?” she said.

“I remember you being there for me when my dog died. You laughed and said that life was a bitch. It was an awful joke to make at an awful time, but it made me laugh. You were there when my mother died. You called her a bitch, too. You were there for me when I tried killing myself. I remember all that. It’s important to me. Do you see me, Beckett? Do you really see me?”

She sighed, looking up at me. “George. What the fuck happened to you?” Tears streamed down my face yet again, so she said, “Gimme a hug, you stupid bitch.”

I leaned down and gave her a hug.

Dead god be damned, I felt safe.

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