Our ship set down again and the door opened. First, our vehicle hovered out, Amanda close behind it. Kendall told the rest of us to wait. I didn’t plan on it.
He grabbed my arm and I froze. “Do the mission and return,” he told me. “You are bound to my will.”
He’s reinforcing his control.
“I will return,” I said, wrenching my arm loose.
“Calm down, Kandy,” Ash said. “We came back last time, didn’t we?”
Things are different, now.
“She’s waiting,” Anna called, stepping out of the ship. Ash and Odessa followed.
I jumped down as the door was closing and looked back. I saw as Kendall, standing with his arms crossed in the opening, was closed in. Leaving us again on our own. The next time we’d meet was already on my mind.
“Doran! Come look at this!”
I turned to see what Anna was talking about.
An endless flat of desert lay behind me, meeting the orange sky at a dark horizon. Kendall dwindled to a black speck above. A cliff of dusty rock rose hundreds of feet before me, dropping off from a plateau. We stood at its mouth, the meeting of two escarpments which ran forever in both directions. It was dizzying to look at.
I walked closer. Inside the passage on every side towered cloaked figures. So slowly, one tilted its skeletal head down to look on us.
“They don’t care about us,” Amanda said as I reached her side. We stood in a tight group. “They’re a part of the scenery more than anything.”
We piled into the hovercraft we’d brought. An eight seater with a cage frame and mounted gun. I and Anna took the back row, Ash, and Odessa the second. Amanda had the pilot’s seat. There was no way we could walk this place, not with the scale.
We started off, flying down the long trench by the feet of the entities that were one with the rock. Each in despairing contemplation, it seemed.
I settled into my seat, propping my knees against the back of Ash’s.
High over the heads of the watchers, I spotted swirling clouds of black creatures in flight. I saw too that our craft stirred the settled mist at the bottom of our canyon as it sped along. It was meditative, I found, to consider my surroundings.
I would have to do something, though. The future again. Kendall would be waiting for our return, this mission would only buy time. When I saw him again, he wouldn’t just banish us either. No, Kendall had discovered an ancient and dark power which wasn’t found in any writings. He was knocking on a door he couldn’t close.
It was in my memory. I had the wisdom to comprehend his magic.
When I saw him again, he would try to subsume me.
He had bound his Self into a form, but his substance was changed. Without the necessary understanding, Kendall had undone his soul. Opened its maw. If he was strong enough, he could devour one’s being. Cannibalize their essence.
Kendall was holding his form together, but in his shadow, I had seen it. The twisted silhouette of so many different souls stitched together.
Depending on how well of a job he’d done, he may or may not hear their voices in his head. He would have all their abilities and attributes at his disposal. He was still stuck in specificity, however.
He hasn’t learned how to use raw power. No, he isn’t smart enough to be knowledgeable about transcendence or the spirit. He’s approaching it from a perspective of law. He’s written his own terms.
I laughed a little. A corpse flew past as we continued down the passage. Some of the Damned walked alone, too.
It was ironic, was why I’d laughed. Kendall didn’t actually need the Guild. He’s immortal. He wouldn’t age with his form bound. He had his wish.
Magic has a lot of paths. It’s rational in its own way and reflects the consciousness. The spirit. The soul. It all has tangible, pragmatic, realities.
I hate it. Of all the paths you could’ve have taken, Kendall, you bent yourself to an ephemeral goal. To a goal at all. You would take me from my way, to suit yours.
He was a wretch playing God. He had his power and place.
How can I blame him? I’ve got my own ends.
What’ll happen is unavoidable.
He would know that.
He knows I’m not fully under his control.
I didn’t want to, but if he could not be reasoned with, then it was unavoidable. I wasn’t confident I could win, not like this. I was a seeker, not in possession of great power. It wasn’t time for that. I didn’t want that time to come, honestly.
I believed in morality. In Pacifism, even. But I would defend myself against Kendall. Even with all of Utopia at his back?
Can’t fight what’s beyond my control.
If it truly was beyond me… Wouldn’t I try?
You can only do what you can, I told myself. My defiance was fading.
I couldn’t fight Kendall. I couldn’t do anything against him, I realized.
For a long time, I looked out and tried not to think about it. I didn’t know what I would do yet, and I didn’t want to. It was all wrong.
I faced Anna in the seat to my right. She was looking out too. After a moment, she turned her head and saw.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’m going to make sure everything is okay,” I said.
I couldn’t see her expression, but her voice was low. “…Good.”
One way or another, I couldn’t see how, but I was beginning to plan.
Anna scooted over and against me, snuggling in. I put an arm around her.
For this one moment, I didn’t need to know. I decided that.
The copper colored stone continued to zip past.
“Why do we not go up?” Odessa asked.
Amanda answered. “For one, this thing doesn’t get good height. Secondly, we’ve got to play it safe. I tried walking through walls last time, climbing over them. Things get so much worse. If you resist, you’ll get lost. Simply let me do the driving, okay? I know the way.”
“How much longer down this canyon?” Anna questioned.
“Several hours at this speed.”
“Shouldn’t there be more turns or something? Like, this is a Labyrinth?”
“I don’t know.”
“We’ve passed two turn offs already, by my reckoning,” I jumped in.
“What?” Anna asked.
“Diversions,” I explained. “If we don’t focus, the path will shift and change while we aren’t looking. We brought an exit with us, but if we were to turn back, we couldn’t leave the way we came in. Turn your back, things get worse. This is hell, remember? It wants to sidetrack us, get us lost.” Then, to Amanda, “you do know where we’re going, right?”
“Stop asking so many questions. Really. The reason I asked you all about yourselves earlier was because, yes, there will be rabbit holes. You will see things. Just stay focused, alright? Watch out for the Damned, watch out for Spectres. That’s it.”
“This’ll be more interesting than last time,” Ash commented.
“What was that like?”
“It was a desert,” I answered. “More of a hopeless feeling, there. There was a ward over the land we were trying to find. We kind of failed, though.”
“Mmm. Well, failure isn’t an option, this time. Your master’s spell should work and then our armies can pour in. If we can get there.”
“That’s the plan, at least.”
“Strategy can be changed. We’ve got our goal.”
“Hopefully, that’s enough.”
Conversation came on and off for the next hour, our scenery never changing. The sun did lower. Not to night, but to a grungier brown light.
I came from staring off into space as the vehicle began to decelerate.
“What’s going on?”
We reached full-stop and Amanda hopped out. “It’s dying.”
Anna was waking up. “What?”
There was a loud pop! The vehicle dropped three feet and slammed into the ground, whipping my head into the cage.
“Shit,” Anna murmured, picking herself up.
Ash stretched and stood. “Wonderful.”
I pulled myself up and slid out the side of the craft, falling on my back in the dirt. “Did you know this would happen, Amanda?”
“It happened last time.”
Odessa slung her sword over, stepping out. “And what did you do?”
“I walked. Come on.”
I got to my feet and went to the back of the crashed hovercraft. I popped the trunk and grabbed one of the survival packs, slung it over my shoulder.
“I seem to recall you’re in the Guild, Amanda?” I asked.
She was already walking ahead. “Yes. You have to be immortal to fight.”
I gave Anna a hand in stepping down out of our fallen vehicle. “Then we don’t need a sustenance dispenser?”
“Hey,” Anna said, feet planted firmly on the ground, “what do you do, anyway?”
“You mean my Practice?”
“I alter my place and movement in space.”
“Simplest way. I installed the powers with a tattoo.”
“I wanna see,” Ash cooed.
We were falling into formation now, Amanda leading.
“Can you transport us?” Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to walk, again.
“No. I learned the first time that, regardless of your mode, our movement will take the same time. Six days it was, previously.”
“That’s significantly better than last time.”
Ash was close to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Yup.”
“Should we bring the gun?” Odessa stopped, looking back.
Everyone else stopped as well, and I looked to Amanda.
Will we need it?
“Yes. We should definitely have the mounted gun. Can you carry it?”
“I can,” I said. I threw Ash the backpack. He followed me to the hovercraft to help me dismount its gun. We climbed up and heaved it off.
While the others were out of earshot, he spoke. “You know that I know, right? That the Fag’s going to eat us.”
I stopped trying to lift the gun. I made sure that the others weren’t able to listen or sense our discussion. “What clued you in?”
“Elementary, Watson. The Bitch Catherine made a point and I know the Fagot. He’s predictable. Unlike you, actually, Mister Negro.”
“Cute. I don’t know what to do, yet.”
“Come on.” He lifted his end. The gun was over a hundred pounds. He helped me get it onto my shoulders. I gestured for the others to start on, and we walked at a distance from them, slowly gaining.
“There’s no good solution.”
“Mmm,” Ash slowly assented.
“Do you have any ideas?”
“I’m not imaginative, Doran. That’s your job.”
“Demonic nature?” I inquired.
“You could say that. In this case, I just think it’s best you figure things out.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“We’re stuck, Ash. There’s nowhere to go. We can’t use violence.”
“You’ve only got two options, Doran. That’s one of them.”
I didn’t respond. I was struggling a little under the weight of the gun.
We caught up with Anna, Odessa, and Amanda.
The sun was now fully setting. We switched on our headlamps.
I was beginning to realize what kind of steps I would have to take. I was alone in this situation. I would have to make the decision.
Morbidly, I recalled an old poem.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
Six days remained. I was dreading their passing.