Endymion was in chaos.
The ground trembled. Buildings collapsed. Streetlights flickered out, or burned brighter than anyone had ever intended. The people rushed through the streets in desperation, and more than a few doomsayers were claiming to have the solution to the chaos, the only path to salvation.
"I get the feeling there's a lot going on here you aren't telling me about," Sirius said to his invisible passenger as he watched the panic below. "In fact, I can't help but think you've been deliberately keeping me in the dark with these stupid pranks."
Siri, I'm hurt! This is a completely different disaster from the one I was trying to engineer. I was just trying to start a little holy war, that's all! Okay, so maybe there was going to be an apocalypse or two once the fighting picked up, but this one had nothing to do with me.
"I don't know if you actually planned it, but you must have known about it. You know about everything going on here. You knew who was in the cult, what they were up to - you even knew enough to feed me plausible lines! Do you honestly expect me to believe you had no idea this was going on?"
Maybe I did, maybe I didn't! Does it even matter? You did a good job, Siri. I ought to give you a raise. And since I'm paying you with my silence, I guess that means it's time for me to go! Toodles!
"Get back here! I have questions for you!" Sirius shouted to no one, and no one answered. The Eccentric, it seemed, had no desire to keep his agent informed.
"Wonderful. The world's ending, and of course that's when the omniscient entity decides it's time to stop talking to me. Really, how could I expect anything else?"
Sirius blinked. Someone was speaking to him, though not the Eccentric. It didn't seem to be coming from the torc, either.
Harbinger, face me!
Sirius found his gaze locked somewhere in midair, but he could see nothing.
Then his eyes glowed as something forced him to look at the spiritual plane, to see exactly who he was speaking to.
He would have screamed, if his mouth could move.
The figure before him mass of metal, in a shape that resembled a woman. She would almost be beautiful, in her own way, were it not for the strange - and oddly familiar - black liquid flowing all around her, and the gaping hole in her chest.
The figure spoke, or rather, her mouth opened and made no sound, but her words nonetheless reached Sirius' ears.
I am Endymion, Harbinger, and you are the instrument of my judgement.
Geoff had a number of questions on his mind. What was going on outside, why had their investigation been pre-empted by official church authorities, why was the church bothering with this cult at all if the world really was ending, and where were they in such a hurry to go that he didn't have time to ask any of these questions?
Wardell, on the other hand, was less concerned. He'd concluded hours ago that he didn't particularly understand anything, and he didn't especially need to as long as someone else was around to understand it for him. All he knew right now was that the world was ending, and they were running, and that was good enough for him. There was no need to think any harder about it, as far as he was concerned.
The page guided them up a stairwell, down a hallway, and to a door that had been well-guarded five minutes ago.
"Here we are. It should be in this room."
"What should be?" Geoff asked, relieved to get at least one question out.
"I don't actually know," the page shrugged. "But it may be the key to saving Endymion."
"That's not an answer," Geoff protested, just as the page swung open the door. Beyond it was a familiar black shape chained over a large vat of black liquid.
"Photographer?" Geoff asked.
"You know this thing? Good, maybe you can figure out how to talk sense into it." The page climbed up and unlocked the Dream's chains. "Apparently it's been babbling about some Final Rites. No idea what that's about, but I assume it has to do with this stuff."
"I'm not-- the photographer," said the Dream, gasping. "But he's at the root of all this. He's entangled with Endymion, and he's-- he's confused. He wants to help her destroy everything-- he wants to destroy her-- he wants to free her from the hatred that's consumed her--"
Once again, Geoff found himself bursting with questions to ask, but decided to settle on the most relevant.
"How can we help him?"
"Get him out! No, keep him in there! No, listen, he's confusing Endymion. She's talking to herself, she isn't used to that. She's lost something? She has to be stopped. She has to be saved."
"Focus! Look, we'll try to get him out. How can we?"
The Dream groaned as he tried to connect the jumble of thoughts flowing through him. He could barely tell which were his own and which were the photographer's, not to mention which ones came from something else entirely.
Finally, he gathered the strength to speak.
"The Sixth Rite is the blessing of the sun," he said. "Tear off all your clothes and stand under the sun's rays from dawn to dusk. When the rite concludes, you will be truly blessed, and so long as your heart is true to me, you will never come to harm in the coming days."
"Well, that wasn't helpful," Geoff grumbled.
"It sounds familiar, actually," Wardell muttered. "The Holy Rites of Grauk-Madaira, one of the dullest holy texts I've ever read. I left a copy in the underground tunnels because I wouldn't miss it."
"And now Photographer's gotten his hands on it?"
"Could happen, I guess."
"This doesn't actually help us explain anything that's going on," Geoff sighed. "We don't actually know anything except that Photographer might be involved in whatever's happening, if you want to take the word of a delusional thing suffering from blood loss."
"I don't see any problem with that," said Wardell's scarf. "So, ah, just out of curiosity, what happens to the clothes you tear off after the blessing of the sun?"
Jeremy wasn't sure exactly how it had happened, but he was at the Core. And it was a mess.
There was a strange black liquid covering everything, including the door they had come out of. No, Jeremy realized as he took another glance, it was the door they had come out of. The black stuff kept reshaping itself, taking on the form of assorted machinery, jumping around the chamber.
"So, uh, here we are!" he said, trying to sound as triumphant as possible. "The Core! Now you can, uh, save Endymion?" He looked at Calor hopefully.
But the Acolyte simply shook his massive head.
"This is worse than I thought," he said. "The Heart can't do anything here."
"Uh, and that's... bad, I take it?"
"Very," Calor muttered. "Not that long ago, I was a man without a heart, you know. I only cared about wealth, and power. Perhaps that was the real reason I sought the Heart of Endymion - I wanted one to fill the emptiness in my own."
"Uh, yeah. Real sad." Jeremy turned to Ellena. "Is this guy for real?" he whispered.
"I only met him once, at a dinner for the pages. He wasn't like this at all."
"But in my greed, I sealed our fate! For without a heart, Endymion has only fury for her people. I hoped to bring it to the Core, to undo my great sin. Yet alas! The corruption has changed the Core too much! There is no place to return the Heart!"
"So... we, uh, build a new place to put it?" Jeremy asked.
"We are speaking of the conscience of a world! You cannot simply craft a place to hold such a thing! Certainly not with the time we have left! I've failed!" Calor sobbed. "Can anything save us now?"
A tendril lifted itself up from the mass, holding up a book.
"The Seventh Rite is the trial of the Harbinger," it said. "The Harbinger shall come to proclaim the end in my name. This is the greatest test - the test of whether you have true faith, or merely fear. Challenge the Harbinger. If your faith wavers, if you fear defying my law, you will perish. But if your faith is true, and you have no fear, you will succeed. You will vanquish the Harbinger, and bring salvation to all."
"Oh, that's really helpful!" Jeremy said. "We just need to fight this Harbinger..." He noticed Calor was turning a pale shade. "Oh, what is it now?"
"The Harbinger, with wings of purest white," he said. "Our Savior..."
"Get a grip, man!" Jeremy said, shaking Calor. He soon thought better of it when he realized just how much larger the priest was than himself, and backed away.
"You!" Calor shouted, pointing. "You open doors, do you not? You will open the Door to Salvation!"
"Uh, sure, if you can point me to it," Jeremy grumbled. "Look, maybe you should calm down a bit, explain this slowly. Do you have an actual plan in mind?"
"The prophecy says the Door to Salvation will open! It is clear now, you are the one to open it!"
"But where does it lead?"
Ellena spoke up.
"There are... certain forbidden texts," she said. "Texts my brother snuck out of the archives and let me read. One of them does mention a prophecy, about a door and some other things..."
"Well, great! So what does it say about the door?"
"Ah, nothing," she sighed. "But there was another text, confiscated from an old cult. They believed in a spiritual plane tangential to our world, and that everything had a spirit, including Endymion herself. If it were true, and we could open a door to the spirit plane..."
"Yes, yes!" Calor shouted, his eyes directly on the heart. "We could return you to her spirit! That is the Door to Salvation! Human, you must open it, so I may put the heart back in its rightful place!"
"DO IT!" the black liquid around the room echoed.
"Okay, okay, I'll do it!" Jeremy grumbled. "Except that I'd need to have a door on the spirit plane to open first. And I've got no clue how to find one. Never done anything like that before."
"I've got no idea, either," Ellena shrugged.
"DAMNATION!" Calor yelled. "So close, so close! Are we to fail now, with the solution in our grasp?"
"I guess I could try to find out more about it," Jeremy sighed. "If I had some way out of here..."
He looked at the doorway of black liquid, but it had dissolved away. Apparently, it didn't particularly want him to leave until the problem was solved.
Jeremy sighed, then saw the tendril holding up a book, and a thought struck him.
"I think I can ask someone for help," he said, opening the The Holy Rites of Grauk-Madaira.
He did not add that he only hoped they'd have a better idea what to do than he would.
Sirius finally found the spiritual grip on his mouth loosening, just as he calmed himself enough to ask a question.
"What do you want me to do?"
Endymion hissed mechanically. She sounded disappointed, as though she expected him to already know.
You are to be my voice to the filth who crawl upon my surface and dare to call themselves my people. Tell the infestation that this cleansing is the work of Endymion. Let them know that this is but the beginning, that my full wrath shall be so much greater.
"I think I get the general idea," Sirius muttered. "What exactly is the reason for all this?"
The reason? You would ask why? You might as well ask why the wind blows, why the stars shine. It must be so. That is why.
"I see," Sirius muttered. "So you're just generally angry. And you want the mortals to know that before you kill them all. And I'm the one who has to tell them this."
It is good that you know your place, Harbinger. Go, now. You are the herald of the end, the vanguard of the forces that will tear the mortal world asunder.
Before Sirius could even consider raising the slightest of objections, he found his wings carrying him forward on their own, towards a bright light on the horizon.
This is the dais from which you will proclaim the end. Here your words will echo throughout the world, beyond the mere reach of your voice.
Go, Harbinger. Your words shall usher in the end of this sinful age of man.
Driven by a higher power, Sirius wordlessly flew on towards the light.
"Unfortunately, this doesn't seem helpful at all," Geoff sighed. "This psuedo-Photographer is delirious, and if he actually does have any more of a clue than we do of what's going wrong, he's not in any shape to share it."
"It's his dream, I think," Wardell said, flipping through his book absentmindedly. "I met it last round. A lot of crazy stuff happened because he was dreaming. There was a rain of fish, and a giant pancake."
"So he's dreaming again, and that's the cause of all this? Do you think waking him up might help?"
"NO!" the dream shrieked.
"All right, that's clear advice, at least. Don't wake up the Photographer. Now that we've settled that, what do we actually do?"
"I guess I could look at a book on dream analysis," he said, digging through his coat. "I mean, sure, it's mostly bunk, but it's as good as any other options we've got here..."
Wardell pulled out What Dreams Mean: Not A Whole Lot, Really and was about to flip through it when the book suddenly opened on its own.
"Hey Ward! I need some help with something!" it said.
"Oh, how long have you been in there?" Wardell's scarf said. "I could have used someone to talk to."
Wardell ignored the scarf. He recognized the voice.
"Jeremy? What are you doing, exactly?"
"Oh, yeah, last round I figured out I can use books like doors. Turns out there was one lying around here, so I thought I'd check in with you guys. Geoff still with you?"
"I am," Geoff said. "We've been interrogating a dream without much luck. I don't suppose you've been any more productive?"
"Oh man, you wouldn't believe it!" Jeremy shouted. "I'm in the core of Endymion! And I've got that heart thingy, uh, the priest guy you were looking for is here too and he's got it. Says if we give it back to Endymion, everything's gonna be okay."
"Well, that's good, at least," Geoff sighed. "At least we don't have to worry about the world ending."
"Yeah, uh... not quite. See, thing is, the mechanism's damaged. There's some weird black goop all over the place. And, uh... listen, it's kind of hard to explain, but there's a prophecy? About opening a door? Thing is, we need a door for me to open first."
"I'm really not sure what the problem is here. Are you saying you need us to build a door? How hard can that be?"
"Well, uh, the door's gotta lead to the spirit world. Which means we need a door in the spirit world for me to link it to. And I have no freakin' clue how to do that."
"I'm afraid I don't either," Geoff said. "I suppose we'll need another plan..."
"I know how," Wardell chimed in. Geoff stared at him.
"Whoa, really? Awesome! Hang on guys, I'm gonna ask this black stuff to make a door so I can bring you over here. Just a sec."
Geoff was about to either raise an objection or ask Wardell how he knew what to do, but before he could get the first word out, he saw the other side of the doorway change.
"Come on, guys!" Jeremy said, waving. "We gotta get this show on the road!"
Wardell and Geoff stepped through. After an awkward pause, the page ran after them, with the Dream lumbering awkwardly behind him. The door collapsed when they were all through, and Jeremy smiled awkwardly.
"So, Wardell, tell us about this door-making thing," he said. "And, uh, fast?"
"It's a technique used to deal with particularly stubborn ghosts," Wardell said. "Most of them can move freely between our world and the spirit plane, so the door lets you even the playing field. Thing is, it's tough to set up."
"We don't appear to have many other options," Geoff said. "Go on."
"The key element we need is a cooperative spirit on the other side. So we generally need a medium in order to establish contact, and then there's bargaining, and it's a lot of trouble to connect it to a door in the physical realm..."
"I can handle that part," Jeremy said confidently. "Just give me two doors and I'll put 'em together."
"So how are we supposed to get a cooperative spirit?" Geoff asked. "Do we have anyone who can talk to them, and if not, what are our other options?"
"Uh, well," Wardell said. "The more unscrupulous types kill someone and use necromancy to control their spirit. There were also a few experiments to create an artificial spirit for the sake of making the door, but those didn't end too well. The only other option anyone ever got to work was sending their own spirit through astral projection."
"And how does that work?"
"I, uh, have a few books on the subject," Wardell said. "But it's nothing I've ever actually tried."
"I don't like how this is shaping up," he said. "We need a backup plan, and I think I've got one."
"Oh? Yeah, other plans are cool, let's hear yours," Jeremy said.
"As best as I can tell, the problem with this mess is that Photographer is dreaming, and entangled with Endymion somehow. If we took Photographer away, that might clear the mess up."
"mmmmaybe?" the Dream mumbled. "dunno," it continued, before collapsing in the black liquid.
"All right, I'll admit it's a gamble. But we do have a way to get Photographer out of this world entirely: end the round."
Wardell found himself backing away instinctively.
"No, I don't mean either of you. I'm going after Sirius. Jeremy, can you get me near him?"
"If I can find him, yeah. Hey, can I get a door?"
The black sludge formed a door again, and Jeremy worked his way through the system.
"Okay, he's flying... whoa, uh, I think the door's taking me somewhere on its own. Guess that's where you're headed." Jeremy grinned. "Good luck, man!"
"Hang on." Geoff turned to Wardell. "I'm going to want a book, so you can tell me if things work out here, or don't. Maybe even something unholy, then I can use it as a weapon against him."
Wardell handed over a copy of Ye Toume Offe Darkenesse.
"Here. It's nice and heavy, and has relatively few side effects."
"Perfect. I'll see you later." Geoff stepped through the doorway, and it collapsed behind him, leaving the rest of the group to their work.
Sirius had reached the light. As with most forms of divine guidance, the actual destination wasn't nearly as impressive as the signpost.
It was nothing more than a balcony. A balcony at the top of the most important church on the planetoid, admittedly, but still not that impressive a venue to proclaim the end.
Although, to be honest, Sirius felt redundant. He was only here to say that they were going to die by the whims of a capricious God - he wasn't exactly telling them anything new, save perhaps that their desperate prayers would go unanswered.
He had been sent here only to murder hope. To give the despairing masses more despair before the end.
To tell them there wasn't even a Goddamned reason for it all.
The panicked masses below had already noticed him. His wings, somehow clean now. His eyes, glowing with spiritual sight. They saw him and saw a chance for salvation, or, failing that, a chance to make sense of it all.
And he was here to deprive them of both.
Sirius gazed down into the crowd, and was struck by its diversity. Dozens of different species and subspecies. Males, females, other genders he hadn't yet learned the proper terms for. Clergy, business owners, the working class, the homeless.
There were probably even a few genetic rejects in there, Sirius couldn't be sure at a glance. The lowest of the low on Endymion.
But for these final moments, that was no longer true. The apocalypse was the great equalizer. No amount of wealth or respect could hold back its tide. Natural-born or new genetic line, reject or offworlder, it made no distinctions. Everyone was going to die.
A thought stirred in the back of Sirius' mind. What if it never came? Surely someone, somewhere - maybe even those frustrating people he was supposed to be fighting - was trying to stop this. But if they succeeded, they would only return the world to its old state. The rejects would be rejected once again.
Perhaps - just perhaps - with the world's attention focused on him, he could change that.
"People of Endymion!" he shouted. "The end is upon you! What you have faced so far is only the beginning of Endymion's wrath!"
The crowd was still, silent, fixated on the Harbinger. Sirius found it almost disturbing, but he could do little but continue.
"She is angry! You have trod upon her surface, blind to her fury, blind to what you have done to her!"
Still no reaction. Were they so paralyzed with fear, rage, and confusion that they could only stand and listen? Or worse, was Endymion somehow holding them in place?
He hoped it wasn't the latter. If she was still here, watching, what would she do when he spoke his next line?
"I speak of your crimes against your fellows! When you turn in your brother to the Inquisitors for speaking of a false god, you wound Endymion! When you dare to call your sister a reject because you think her genetic line inferior, you wound Endymion! When you tell those who came here from offworld seeking a new life they do not belong, you wound Endymion!"
The crowd was no longer still. Many among them were looking down in shame, or clenching their fists in rage.
None of them wanted to hear what he was saying, because they knew it was true.
"You sealed your own fates with your cruelty, your callousness! Endymion is merely rewarding your hatred with her own! But where your spite merely ruins lives, hers ruins worlds! None shall be spared from Endymion's wrath!"
As the words sank in, Sirius glanced at the sky, wondering if Endymion would punish him for going off her message. But there was no sign of her, no sign of anything save a few lingering spirits. She either didn't know what he was saying in her name, or didn't object.
"You ask what you can do now," Sirius continued. "The wiser among you see the truth in these words, and beg for another chance. But there is no second chance. Endymion's will is that you all perish--"
Before he could continue, he felt something strike his left wing. It felt like a crossbow bolt.
By the time he had turned his head to confirm that it was, in fact, a crossbow bolt, he felt a heavy and evil book striking him in the face.
"So, just to make sure," Wardell said. "Nobody here has any power to talk to spirits, or any skill in astral projection?"
Jeremy shook his head. Ellena and her brother shrugged. Calor seemed to ignore the question, evidently more interested in the Heart in his hands than anything else going on. Dream mumbled something that Wardell didn't understand and figured wasn't important.
"Okay, no shortcuts, then," he sighed. "Our best option is making contact with a spirit ourselves. Usually it's easier for them to talk to us than vice versa, it's just a matter of making a form of communication."
Some of the liquid tendrils took on the shape of a small board with letters all over it.
"Nah, those don't work," Wardell said, waving his hand dismissively. "Not usually. Most spirits don't care to just respond to random questions from the mortal plane. They've moved beyond our petty concerns and typically ignore us. What we need to do is get a spirit's attention."
"And the end of the world isn't enough to do that?" Ellena asked.
"It's not the world they're in," Wardell explained. "Unless the apocalypse is extending to the spirit plane - which I guess is possible, it's not like I'm an expert on the world ending - it's just a mortal problem to them."
"What do spirits want, then?" the page asked.
"That varies. A lot. Bargaining with spirits is messy business, most of the time. There's one useful trick, though; almost every spirit has a strong link to some physical object. If you've got that object on hand, you can usually offer to take care of it, or you can threaten it if the spirit's aggressive."
"So, what, is there a spirit for everything, or is there some way to know if something's got a link?" Jeremy asked. "Otherwise we're just taking a shot in the dark."
"There are a few signs. Typically items of religious significance have spirits attached to them. Or objects that seem to talk to people, those are usually a sign that a spirit's talking through them."
Jeremy glanced over at Calor, who was whispering something to the Heart.
"Wouldn't risk it," Wardell said. "One, that guy's twice your size, and two, from what you were saying we need that thing to fix this mess."
"Right, no, just thinkin' about, uh, stuff," Jeremy said. "What about, uh, local legends? You guys got any stories about spirits we could ask for help?"
"Church lore posits that Endymion has a spirit, but that's it," the page said. "And that's the spirit we're trying to fix. There might have been stories over the years, but the Church generally made sure they didn't get written down."
"So we've got nothing to work with," Wardell sighed. "Well, guess I'm out of ideas. Might as well call Geoff and wish him good luck."
A black tendril suddenly started waving in front of Wardell's face.
"What do you want?" he asked. The tendril changed shape into a telephone receiver. Wardell stared at it awkwardly, then cautiously held it to his ear.
"Hello?" he asked.
The phone coughed something at him.
"What's the catch?"
The phone belched.
"Nah, I don't deal in souls," Wardell said. "What else? Well, I've got books, I guess there's this talking scarf..."
The phone sneezed.
"No physical objects, right. How about knowledge? Even the spirits don't know everything, after all."
The phone creaked in response.
"Everything I know about Endymion? Sure, go for it. Pretty soon either I'm not going to be here or it isn't. You've got yourself a deal."
He let go of the receiver, which dissolved back into sludge.
"Okay, good news, guys, we got ourselves a spiritual benefactor. They're making the door right now."
"Well, that's a relief," Jeremy said. "Any idea what sort of spirit it is?"
"Nope," Wardell shrugged. "But they're bound to the bargain, so they can't double-cross us. Don't worry, I wouldn't have agreed if the bargain wasn't reasonable."
"What was the bargain?" Ellena asked. "We didn't hear anything except the price."
"They make us a door and won't do anything to hurt us," Wardell said. "Pretty basic spirit contract."
There was a sudden loud splash as the black liquid around them swirled into the shape of an enormous door.
"I think that's a signal that they're done," Wardell said. "Better give Geoff a call."
It didn't take Sirius long to realize what was going on. Once again, his spiritual vision couldn't see Geoff at all, only a crossbow and an ominously glowing book on the ground. Evidently, the Hattallan detective had no intention of giving himself away with his weapons this time.
Of course, this time, there were no hallucinations to interfere. But there was an audience, an audience that might be decidedly less impressed if the glow from his eyes vanished. He couldn't risk that now.
But there was an opportunity, he realized. To the crowd, he was the messenger of the apocalypse. A defeat at the hands of a mortal would mean hope. It might be real, or it might be a comforting lie to feed them in their final moments - but it was one of the few gifts he could offer them now.
Of course, he wasn't going to lose without a fight.
"You dare to strike the Harbinger?" Sirius shouted at no one. He didn't even think about how it would look to the crowd, who could see he wasn't even facing Geoff.
"Yes I do," Geoff said, shooting Sirius' other wing. "You think you have the right to barge in here and tell us sorry, we screwed up, now we die, no more chances? You could have spoken up a thousand times before, set us on the right path, but you only turn up when the world's ending! How is that giving us a fair chance?"
Sirius tore off a piece of the railing and swung it ineffectively at the air, much to the confusion of the assembled masses below.
"You have already had plenty of chances, plenty of messengers! Thousands have spoken up, and been trampled!"
"And changes were made because of those thousands!" Geoff snapped, ducking down and dropping the book on Sirius' foot. "The members of discontinued lines are citizens by law!"
Sirius made another ineffective swing at what he hoped was a Hattallan, all the while trying not to show just how much pain his foot was in. It was one thing for the Harbinger to lose to a worthy foe, it was another to be humiliated.
"Your mortal laws failed!" Sirius howled. "You drove them underground, turned a blind eye to their suffering! You think mere words on paper will stay judgement for your sins?"
"Oh, I won't deny we've got problems," Geoff said, picking up his crossbow and firing a bolt into Sirius' face. "But we managed to make some progress without an apocalypse bearing down on us." He dodged a swing of the railing and ducked down to pick up the book. "I'll grant it's an amazing way to get our attention, maybe if you give us a few more years we'll actually get somewhere halfway decent." He swung the book into Sirius' chest with all his might, knocking the angel back towards the doorway.
"Endymion does not bend to the will of mortals!"
"And mortals don't go quietly," Geoff said, swinging the book again. Sirius was knocked inside, to the shock of the entire crowd.
Geoff picked up his crossbow and walked inside.
"Well, now that we're away from the crowd," he said, "perhaps we can get a real conversation going. Recent political activism aside, I haven't forgotten what you've done, but that isn't even the main thing this is about."
"You want a way out," Sirius said, as the glow in his eyes dissipated. "You want to get away from all this. Kill me, the round ends, and who cares what happens here, at least you're still alive."
"That's Plan B, and as a matter of fact I do care what happens here," Geoff said. "I just don't have that much confidence in Plan A."
At that moment, Ye Toume Offe Darkenesse burst open and a familiar voice spoke from it.
"Yo Geoff! Don't know how the fight's going, but we've got the door ready!"
"Really? Congratulations, Sirius, you've got a few more minutes to live. I suggest you put them to better use than trying to kill me, considering the situation."
Sirius simply glared.
"Unless you want Endymion to perish because Jeremy wasn't here to open the door to the spirit plane, that is." Geoff smirked.
"I don't know what you're talking about, but--"
Sirius stopped in mid-sentence as the thoughts rushed through his head.
Jeremy was, for whatever reason, opening a door to the spirit plane.
Most gods, and likely the Eccentric, could travel through the spirit plane.
He hadn't heard a word from the Eccentric for the better part of an hour.
"Never mind! I do know what you're talking about, and it's a terrible idea!"
"What's he babbling about?" Jeremy asked.
"The Eccentric's waiting on the other side of the door!" Sirius yelled. "And maybe a few dozen of Swhales' gods, for all I know! If you open it up and let them out, they'll only make things worse!"
"Wait, what? Eccentric? Gods?"
"Swhales did say the Eccentric was talking to him, and trying to manifest," Geoff said. "And I see Sirius wearing his necklace. I don't think this is a trick."
"That would explain our spirit benefactor," Wardell said. "The Eccentric might not be bound by the contract, or he might just say it didn't exclude sending a few dozen angry gods through the doorway."
"But this is our best chance to save Endymion!" Jeremy protested. "Look, even if someone dies, we don't know that's going to stop whatever Photographer's doing. I don't want to give up on this place yet!"
"I don't know how you think your door is going to help, but unless you can keep the Eccentric and an army of crazed gods from passing through, it's a terrible idea!" Sirius growled.
Jeremy was about to say something rude back, but then he glanced at Ellena's face.
She was afraid. She didn't know what was going to happen to her.
She was counting on him.
And if they left the round, he'd never see her again, even if Endymion was safe.
"You know what? I can keep them from passing through!" Jeremy said. "Get ready, guys. We've got a world to save!"
"So who's going through the door?" Wardell sighed. He knew that somehow, it would end up being him.
"I shall!" Calor declared suddenly. "The Heart has chosen me to guide it back! It is my only path to redemption!"
"Yeah, uh, that's great," Jeremy said. He leaned in to Wardell. "Maybe someone should, y'know, keep an eye on that guy? Not me, 'cause I've got to manage the door, but y'know..."
"Your bravery is an inspiration to us all," Wardell said with only the barest effort to fake sincerity. "But I cannot in good conscience allow you to go alone. Please, valiant Calor, allow me to accompany you."
"Only if you are certain. No doubt we will face great danger within that gateway."
"Yeah, totally certain," Wardell sighed. "Let's get going."
"You, uh, going to want to make any preparations? It's not going to be easy to turn back."
Wardell glanced at the books strewn about on the floor, and picked up a small tome entitled Gods Are Total Bullshit: Why Believers Are Idiots.
"I'm ready," he said. "Let's get going."
"Okay, good luck!" Jeremy said, standing before the giant liquid door. "Making the link in three... two... one..."
The doors swung open, and Jeremy was immediately knocked to the ground.
"GET IN!" he shouted, scrambling to his feet. "HURRY!"
Calor rushed in, dragging Wardell with him. Jeremy slammed the door shut and breathed a sigh of relief.
The door started to open again.
"Shit," Jeremy groaned. "This might be a little tougher than I thought."
The gods were angry.
This was their usual state of affairs, and half the time they were angry with each other. For the moment, however, their anger was focused on the Eccentric.
"You promised us free rein of the mortal world!" the God King Bodb Derg shouted. "For this, we accepted your terms and silenced ourselves. For this, we permitted you to kill our servant and grant us another. And now, with the hour of our descent upon us, you tell us we cannot leave this plane?"
"I didn't think the door guy would put up this much of a fight!" the Eccentric snapped back. "Listen, if you want to risk getting lost in the void between the spirit plane and the mortal world, be my guest, but if not, then wait until I tell you to go!"
"How pathetic," Macha sneered. "He claimed his power greater than all of ours, yet here he is, trapped on this plane, and unable to overcome one single mortal. Perhaps we were fools to ever work with him."
"Talk is cheap. How many of us are even trying to hold the door open? Answer: One, me! Maybe if I had a little help, we'd be out of here!"
Before any of the other gods could respond, there was a loud crash as Wardell fell into the spirit realm, and Calor landed on top of him.
"Ow," Wardell groaned. Then he looked up, and saw just how many gods were gathered all in one place.
"This could be a problem," he sighed. A dozen or so of the more warlike ones approached them as Calor stood up.
"Endymion is the only true deity!" he shouted. "And no number of false gods shall stand between me and her restoration!"
"Great, we've got company," the Eccentric sighed. "Get those guys, maybe we can use 'em to bargain with the door kid."
"Oh, behold, the mighty Eccentric, reduced to making deals with mortals!"
"Oh, shut up."
The gods drew closer. Wardell picked himself up, pulled out his book and started reading.
"First thing you need to know about gods is, they're a crock of shit cooked up by priests," he read. "I mean, think about it. Some guy who we never see or hear from is watching us and judging everything we do, and will take the slightest excuse to condemn us to horrible torture for eternity? And isn't it so convenient for us that this priest knows exactly what he wants, like giving money to the priest as thanks for showing us the way! Amazing how that all works out, right?"
A few of the gods groaned in agony. Apparently blasphemy was effective, but Wardell needed more of it. He continued reading as Calor fired crossbow bolts at whichever god seemed the most in the way.
"Even if gods were real, seriously, who'd want anything to do with them? They're always screwing mortals over. Sure, you hear about the occasional dude who gains divine favor, but the gods screw him if he complains over the tiniest of things. You'd have better luck making deals with the Mafia. At least they understand the concept of 'quick and painless'."
"This is fun!" the scarf said, watching as two gods drew near Wardell and then doubled over in pain before they could reach him. "Can I try it?"
"Knock yourself out."
In the distance, Wardell could see a female figure, a metallic woman covered in the same black liquid that was all over the Core. There was a gaping hole in her chest, too, where her heart should be.
"I think I found our goal," he said to Calor, as his scarf started reciting Chapter One: Ancient Bullshit About Gods. "We just need to clear a path, hand over the heart, and then get out of here."
"Then for Endymion, we charge!" Calor shouted, firing the last of his bolts and then flinging the crossbow at one of the shorter gods. He grabbed Wardell and rushed forward, the scarf continuing its recital the whole time. Gods collapsed before the heretical words, and they were soon just a few meters away from Endymion's unmoving spirit.
Unfortunately, they were even closer to Evalia, a goddess of textiles, displeased to see a disobedient scarf.
"Cease your babbling," she said, and the scarf stopped reciting.
Wardell was about to pick up where it left off when he felt the scarf tightening around his neck. He could barely breathe, let alone get words out.
"What's happening?" Calor asked. Before he could even consider trying to read the blasphemous book himself, though, six gods had caught up to him and started pummeling the intruder. He dropped Wardell and the Heart to the ground as they overpowered him.
Wardell found his vision growing blurry. He tried, desperately, to untangle the scarf from his neck, but it continued to choke him. He was too weak, so weak the gods weren't even bothering with him.
And then he felt his hands grasp around something cold and metal.
The Heart of Endymion.
Groaning and struggling, he crawled forward the last few feet to Endymion, pulled himself up onto her legs, and shoved the heart where he hoped it went.
For a moment, his eyes shut, and he was worried they wouldn't open again.
Then he heard a loud screech, and reflexively opened his eyes. The black liquid was falling off Endymion, and the hole in her chest repaired itself.
"LEAVE MY DOMAIN!" Endymion shouted. "YOU ARE ALL TRESPASSING!"
The gods were flung backwards, and Wardell felt his scarf loosen. He took a few deep breaths and blinked.
Then he saw Calor, who was still prone on the ground. The gods had not been kind to him.
"I thank you, child," Endymion said. "You have saved me from making a terrible mistake. Now, you must leave, quickly; though my strength is recovering, I fear I will not be able to hold back the intruders for long."
"Thanks," Wardell groaned. He started running back towards the door.
At first he ran right past Calor, then he sighed and grabbed the Acolyte's massive hand.
"This isn't going to end well," he muttered, dragging Calor along awkwardly and gasping for breath.
Back in the Core, Jeremy was in pain. The Eccentric had been fighting him the entire time, and it was taking a huge toll on his body. He'd even tried asking the liquid door to disperse, but every time it tried, it reformed a moment later.
It had relieved the pain, at least. Finally, after what seemed like hours to Jeremy, the black liquid started gathering, flowing, all leading into one place. It shaped itself into Photographer, still fast asleep.
A moment later, he distorted himself into a door.
"Okay, good news, world's probably safe," Jeremy groaned. "Bad news, Ward and Calor aren't back yet. And I don't know how Photog's taking all this, but one thing at a time."
"Is there any way we can help?" Ellena asked. Jeremy shook his head, then vomited.
"Well, I guess you can clean that up," he muttered. "But this is pretty much my thing, I gotta take care of it. I bet they'll be back soon, though... whoa, this is it, I feel them getting close!"
Jeremy released the door, just for a moment, and Wardell came rushing through the Photographer-door, panting heavily and dragging an unconscious Calor behind him.
"We... did it..." he gasped, before collapsing on the floor.
"That's great!" Ellena said. She and her brother rushed to the unconscious duo, trying to do what they could.
They were so distracted that they didn't notice what was happening to Jeremy.
In the brief moment the gate was held open for the return trip, the Eccentric had metaphorically jammed his foot in the door, and it was taking all of Jeremy's strength to push it back out. It didn't help that several gods were trying to force their way through the crack as well.
Gotta... break... the link... Jeremy thought, so weak that even thinking the words took strength he couldn't spare.
He pushed as hard as he could, willed the link shut, even as the Eccentric tried to will it back into being.
Photographer's body contorted wildly as it tried its hardest to stop being a door, and as Jeremy tried his hardest to stop it from leading anywhere when it was a door.
Jeremy started coughing weakly. Ellena turned away from Wardell.
"Jeremy, are you okay--"
She didn't finish the question, because she realized he wasn't when she saw him coughing up blood.
"Almost... got it..." Jeremy said. Immediately afterwards, a tiny, ominously glowing foot popped out of the Photographer-door, and then the Photographer stopped being a door.
And Jeremy collapsed, his strength spent.
He never got up.
There's no reason for this | Or this | Death is inevitable | You can't challenge fate | The smallest change
I'm serious | It makes perfect sense | Easy as ABC! | I can't even explain it
I suck | I rule | I've got it made | Really, I'm serious | This bugs me | It's all lies | I want to believe
(This post was last modified: 03-04-2014 05:25 AM by Dragon Fogel.)