I had laid down on a wooden desk, sprawling across, legs on the ground and arms folded on my chest. I was in the police chief’s office, books and candles littering the floor. Anna’s old hideout, she had told us.
I’d occasionally looked through the texts lying about while wasting time. They were too clinical, I found, their magic lacking personal focus. Written by scientists in what is really an early understanding. I’d seen that at the Monastery as well. Few pushed boundaries. Questioned themselves.
Awareness was always the key to magic, no matter what form it came in.
All truth is wasted on the limited mind, the blade whispered.
“I’m limited. I manage,” I thought aloud, voice a low rumble. “Humility is good.”
It’s the event horizon I love, it said. The absolute infinity of an absence. Purity.
“You’re just all over the place,” I chided.
It’s the abomination I hate. The sin and the lie. The blindness of limitation. When the soul is led to live an illusion, never even glimpsing. The pretense of reality in your eyes.
Ah. It was just a roundabout thought, actually. “Yes.”
In all the time it’d taken us to get us here, I’d been putting it back together. My designs. Why I’d left. Who I was. Who I am. This isn’t what I’d wanted. But I couldn’t control everything, know everything. When Christopher had brought me back, an iteration of an ancient theme, a timeless man, there’d been a decision.
Not a decision. A test.
I checked my watch. It was 7:12 in the morning. A speck of sky could be seen through a crack in the ceiling. It was bright out.
Something felt off. I hadn’t heard from Ash in over an hour.
That could be incredibly bad.
I sat up and looked out into the police station. “Ash!” I yelled.
“Yeah?” he stuck his head around the corner.
“She’s-” he went back behind the corner then popped back out. “I dunno.”
I swung my legs off the side of the desk and launched off.
“She should have notified me if she was going somewhere.” I quickly searched around the station, calling out for her. “This isn’t good.”
Ash ducked through and out onto the street. I followed. “You got a sense?”
“Not yet,” I answered. She wasn’t here. I stepped out into the road and looked all around. I had no idea where she’d gone. She couldn’t have gotten far, right?
Ash was toting his gun, looking up and down the road. “Plans?”
“Let’s get Anna first. I have a pretty good idea of where she is. If Odessa’s not back by the time we are, then we… we-” I stopped there. I hated the idea.
Ash looked at me and nodded, smirking.
We move on without her. He was willing and ready to do that. Anna was late as well. If I had to choose between searching for one of the two of them, I knew which I’d choose. Odessa had to be responsible for herself. I knew where Anna would be.
“Come on, loser,” Ash ordered me, pointing the way she’d gone.
We picked up the pace and started towards Anna’s old house. I had the location in my mind and even though I’d never been, I could find our way.
My watch read 7:39.
The sun was well hidden behind the building tops, only the sky’s light showing the street which Anna’s house rested on.
It was a quaint single story apartment nestled beneath the windowless base of a structure which went up another four stories. An automated building. Then it was an open sky with only one sight but the clouds.
The Utopian’s space elevator.
“The door’s open,” Ash observed.
Her apartment’s door was wide open, blown in by the windy street. Peering in, some of the lights were on as well. But no one was home.
“Welp,” Ash said. “Looks like it’s just you and-”
I cut him off, holding up a finger. “In the corner of your eye, Ash. Just beyond perception. What’s hiding?”
“There’s….” he turned in circles, looking at both sides of the street. “I fucking hate bullshit magic. What’s not to see?” He threw his arms up.
“That,” I pointed. Right in plain sight.
He whipped around, finally seeing the second apartment right behind him. I’d broken the spell placed on it. Pretty quality practice to fool a demon.
“Fuck this guy.” He kicked the door in.
The door swung open to reveal, sitting at the house’s far end at a table, Anna, and an older man. Drinking tea.
The man, white and wrinkled with a salt and pepper beard, receding hairline, and bathrobe, stood rapidly. Anna watched in shock.
“Who are you,” he coolly demanded.
“Those are my friends,” Anna explained.
“Your friends are a demon and a… whatever that is,” he gestured to me.
I moved Ash out of the way. “Thick,” I called him. I, showing my hands defensively, addressed the man. 7:43, I noted. “Sir… Mister Canton?” Yes, it was her father. “We’re the ones that got your daughter out of hell.”
“I know who you are.”
“Dad,” Anna jumped in again. “It’s okay.”
“It’s very much not okay.” He stepped forward between us and Anna. “One’s a demon and one is surrounded by… I- I can’t comprehend it.”
“The implications are a little staggering,” I said. “Anna’s playing a part in bigger things, Canton. That’s why I’m here. We need her.”
We really don’t. Liability, remember.
“She doesn’t want to go with you.” He looked back to her.
Anna hesitated but spoke her mind. “I’m not a fighter, Doran. This- this was all I wanted; to get home. So thank you. For getting me here. But… it’s all been a nightmare, you know? And I know you don’t need me. Now, I’m fine, okay? You can move on. Thank you.”
“You heard her,” her father restated. “She doesn’t want to go with you.” He shoved his finger at the door. “Now leave. You should leave the planet. This-”
I interrupted him. “I really do need you, Anna.”
She got up from the table. “Look at me, Doran. I can’t take any more.”
“Neither can I, Anna. I’ve died more times than humans have a number for. That’s why I need you. If you can keep going, even now, then so can I… And I have to see this through. It’s the end of everything. The most important moment. It’s here.”
“I can’t. I can’t.”
“Doran,” her father moved forward. I took a step back. “I see what’s following you around, now. It’s right in your wake… or right in your future.” His eyes widened. “The end. It actually is coming.”
“Yes! Which is why,” 7:47, “we need to go. Every moment counts.”
“We-…” he was at a loss for a moment, but focused. “We must alert the public.”
“I’ve already put Quinn Porter to that task. He’ll alert the council, they’ll alert the public. The city will be cleared and Kendall will be summoned to court. As long as he’s out of the way, everything will be fine.”
“We have to evacuate.”
“You have to evacuate. I need Anna with me.”
“No!” he moved closer, forcing me back again towards the door. “I know I can’t stop whatever is going on, or you. But Anna’s not going with you.”
I looked past him to her. She cast her eyes down. “It’s been years, now. When I was in hell, I knew what I was going to become. I’m already more than halfway there. I’m bald, Doran. I’m dying… or turning undead. You can’t ask me to continue. Not like this. My Dad, he can undo this. We’ve talked about it. I believe him. Please don’t ask me to give that up.”
I wished I could explain. Time is short.
“Kendall can’t screw with us in daylight,” Ash told me. “We’ve got to fucking move, Doran. Gotta split. Now or never.”
He was pressuring me. He wanted me to accept it, leave her.
“Go,” Canton ordered me.
“Please go,” Anna echoed him.
We must leave her.
I’m not sure I can do it.
We’ll simply have to see.
“Okay. I will,” I said. “We’re going, Ash.”
“Finally!” He was already out the door.
I lingered for a moment, Canton staring me down, Anna hiding behind him.
Anna, I’d cared for her most, out of anyone I’d known in my recent time. Now, I had to go. And I probably wouldn’t ever see her again. I didn’t say goodbye.
It would be easier this way.
Once back on the street, Ash asked me. “What’s our next move?”
“We check back to the station!” He knew that. He wanted me to change my mind, but I wasn’t losing another part of our group. Odessa would be there.
“Fucking hell. Fine!” He started at a sprint and I followed.
Time was short.