We’d had some time before Amanda was ready to leave, even after taking a Panacea. I had walked out of the situation room mad. Furious with Kendall.
I was out in the courtyard, now, sitting beneath a concrete porch in a metal chair, slouching with my arms propped against my legs. The air was as calm as it had been. Lazy snowflakes drifted down.
I was trying to calm myself, but couldn’t stop thinking.
There’s not a way to win. You can only pick the best of what you’re offered.
First, the Primordial had predicted my death. Now Kendall stood to kill me himself. I couldn’t do anything about it, either. I had allowed myself to be bound. I could fight it, but I couldn’t simply ignore it. I didn’t know what to think, what to do.
“Fuck,” I swore. It wasn’t right.
There should be a good choice, not multiple wrongs. I didn’t see how I could fix this.
I heard distant footsteps and sat up, took a steadying breath.
“Hey you.” Ash came screeching, pulling up his chair. “Found him.”
I’d been alone for a while. When you see someone constantly for months, you notice when they’re missing.
“I wasn’t hiding,” I lied.
The girls set down chairs as well. I avoided looking at Anna, who sat to my right. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. I didn’t think she could handle it.
“Aku said that an Eidolon was found outside the walls?” Odessa asked me.
“I was there. I followed her to the situation room where she briefed Porter. Kendall and Hasami were there too. I don’t know where Catherine got off to, actually. Apparently, she’s a soldier working towards an important mission. What’re the odds, right?”
“Alright,” Anna said. “Why’re you moping, then?”
“Kendall volunteered us.” Plausible reason.
“Again, seriously?! We just got back and he’s going to send us off?”
“It was getting boring anyway,” Ash told Anna.
“It’s miserable and lonely out there.”
I put my hand on her shoulder. “We’ve got each other,” I said, looking at all three of them. I hated this.
“Aww,” Odessa teased. She was usually so reserved. I was a little surprised.
“I am joking, of course,” Ash added. “I get pissed whenever that prick is stricken with the mood to try and kill me with an errand.” Then, “What is that errand?”
“Please tell me we aren’t disabling a spell again.”
“We’re disabling a spell again. Only this time we’ll be trying to set up a spell as well. It’s a city of the Damned surrounded by an impassable Labyrinth.”
“I fuckin’ hate those things.”
“Gods yes,” Odessa echoed him. They had that experience in common, apparently.
The conversation lulled and we sat in silence. Everyone once in a while Ash would sigh loudly. Finally, I knew we needed to get over it.
“Let’s go get ready.”
We had gone down to the armory and dressed up in the highest utility suits. Amanda was rested up and our shuttle was charged. She met us in the courtyard, shaking each of our hands.
“It’s good to meet all of you,” she said, already starting off.
She, Kendall, and the four of us covered the landing area briskly towards the ship, snow raining down on us. We boarded rank and file. The doors were closing as I stepped in at the back. In the interior of the ship, we all took to holding on to the bar overhead as the craft lurched upward.
Odessa hauled her sword. She’d swapped out knight’s armor for the same suit we all wore. We had finally convinced her it was more protective. Her auburn hair was done tightly up. Anna was ahead of her and had already put on her mask.
Amanda, at the front, had a resolved look in her dark eyes. She saw me watching her, and put on her helmet. The mask’s facial cameras like many eyes focused. “I like to know who I’m working with,” she said to all of us.
“You won’t be working with me,” Kendall told her. “They’re autonomous. And they won’t be any hassle. You have my authority.”
“I make no promises. I’m naughty,” Ash joked.
He was definitely talking to me. Don’t try anything, he meant.
I didn’t know if Ash was wise to Kendall’s intention. They all knew we were being passed off to Amanda for a mission. But they didn’t know it would be our last. I really didn’t have the heart to tell them. Now wasn’t the time. I didn’t think there would be one.
Amanda looked past Kendall to the rest of us. “I’m Amanda Parry. Magus, second class. I’ll be leading you through this mission. I believe in doing my duty for God and humanity, that’s me. Now you,” she pointed to Ash, next in order.
He looked reluctant. Ash too was in uniform like the rest of us. His suit had a belt of knives across its front, which he was constantly touching. He sighed. “True name Ashmedai, I go by Ash. I’m a demon, so… go, people, while they’re winning, and all that… I’m being forced to work here.”
His motives are consistent, at least. “You next.” She pointed to Anna.
“I’m Anna, former human and Utopian citizen. I affirm the perfect way, still.”
“What do you believe, Anna?” she asked, prying for more.
“I… What you do? I mean, it’s all the same. Morality is universal for everyone, as they say. We’re all one people. Not big on God, but not against it, I guess.”
With the cabin lights low but stark, red and flashing, my eyes were drawn to our shifting shadows. It was distracting me. Something eluding. Even with so many things on my mind, something was noticeably off.
“I am Odessa, daughter of Aelius Dragonsbane. I am a servant of divinity.”
It dawned on me what I’d been missing. I caught it in the corner of my eye, then looked for a long time at it. A mixture of sadness and anger hit me. It was Kendall. The wrongness I’d first noticed. I saw it, and I had only to look closer. I understood now what he’d done, completely.
His shadow betrayed it. The horror.
“-Doran,” Odessa called me.
“Hmm?” I was pulled back.
“You’re up,” Amanda ordered.
Kendall stared back at me, grim. He had circles under his eyes, and an apathetic stare for me, in response to my gaze. He didn’t care what I thought anymore.
“I’m Doran. I think… I believe that people more dedicated to the truth than me have found different answers. Which tells me something. Something I ignore.”
Not my best answer. But I was still distracted.
I felt the inertia. Deceleration as we pulled into the battle station. I hung my head and waited. As we docked the ship jostled, locking in and settling. The cargo doors lowered down onto the walkway where our craft had settled.
Stepping out onto the bridge there were several spacecraft on the wide walkway aside from ours. Amanda was in a hurry to resume her mission, so we, unfortunately, wasted no time sightseeing.
I was carrying it under my arm but I finally decided to put on my helmet like everyone else. When my sight returned I looked as we walked, over the edge and into the obscurity below. A false sun glowed over my shoulder and the ship bay was so massive a fog obscured its edges. The bridge connected back to an enormous black pillar. When we reached its face, a door opened for us. We filled the elevator and it closed. Aku knew our direction. There were no windows, but I could feel that we were flying upward.
The trip was short. Our doors opened onto a vast platform above the hanger bay. We strode past machinery and rows of storage. Hundreds of androids were asleep there, a few Magi walked the floor as well.
Finally, we came to an open doorway which led into command central. Four people sat in chairs at the center of the room, holograms all around them, and just beyond a curved window which went from floor to the vaulted ceilings.
When we got close enough, I could see the faces of the four men. They wore grey suits and, apart from ethnicity, were very much alike.
Four ethicists for this entire operation. Nearly unlimited power at their disposal.
I recognized that look about them. Analyzation.
“Hello, Missus Parry,” the third man said. “I see you’re eager to work as usual.”
“We only need the all-clear, sir, then we’ll be off,” Amanda replied.
“Let’s be clear,” the first man spoke. “The Damned are our first concern. Your mission is to disable the witchcraft prohibiting our attempts to retrieve them.”
“What about the demonic gathering?” Kendall asked.
“Non-aggression will suit us in this circumstance, Blackthorn. They are not capable of harming us. If we break their stronghold, they will flee our armies as always. Go in and make a way for the salvation of the Damned.”
“And please remember,” the fourth man said, his accent Jamaican, “that your sacrifice of safety is great. Do not lose your soul to this place. It is here where reason, reality, and love goes to die a long death. Be so cautious.”
The second man neglected to talk.
“Thank you, sirs.” Amanda bowed.
Odessa came around their chairs and up to the window at the far end of the room. Amanda followed, so the rest of us did as well. Not Kendall.
Looking out the window, I saw the city. The entire inner ring of the shelf, as far as the eye could see, was a twisted cityscape. From so high up it looked like a mess of architecture and ruin. A wall encircled it, miles deep, with only one entrance. The whole thing seemed to be crawling.
“Come on,” Kendall called.
“Yes,” Amanda agreed.
I was the last one to look away.
On our way out, Kendall stepped in front of me. He put a card in my hand.
“This is for the mission,” he said. “Amanda should be able to activate the spell. The rune will open a portal if nothing else blocks it.”
We were now a distance behind the group.
“This one is yours. I know you can activate it if something happens to her.”
“Yes. Listen. Don’t fuck up the mission to spite me, okay? It won’t work. Do what you want, tell them if you want to, but Amanda has control.”
“I understand.” I was resisting the urge to hit him.
“Good.” He left me standing, fists clenched.
I put the card away crinkled and followed at a distance.
No time for breaks, we were headed back into the wild hell.