The storm was breaking against the elevator. I was slumped down in one corner of the large glass room. At the four corners, the structure of metal and wire worked to pull me upward. The shaking was constant, lightning striking.
It all felt far away, though. I put a hand to my face, covering an eye and feeling my ripped skin. Blood continued to pour down, at this point coating my head, neck, and chest. It didn’t matter. I was immortal. Didn’t need food, sleep, breath. Blood was just one more step.
Live so long that surviving, immortality, is the bedrock of my soul. I can bleed all I want because my nature is to live. That’s the power of eternities.
Still, I spit the metallic taste from my mouth, dribbling blood through my torn lip. My free hand was now coated, and my other was burnt to the handle of my blade. My entire body drenched in black fluids, all of it was a mixture.
From the beginning, this is what you wanted to avoid, the voice said.
“It’s a trap,” I spoke. The entire thing is a tragedy machine.
I sighed. Ash should’ve been around to lend some levity.
From the start, they’d been with me. Anna, Odessa, Ash, and even Kendall. It’d been us for our good. Then, our good and Kendall’s good became different things. There was no way to reconcile that. There’d been love, but it turned to hate. Those were their definitional terms.
I’d cared about all of them. Kendall less. He was always an ass.
Still, it had been so good to live again.
I missed that. We all knew we were going to die. But when you get old, the reality dawns. It was real when I first came back, and it was real again now.
Suddenly, the clouds faded. I left the storm behind. It was beautiful, the insanity changing into an endless calm plain. Beneath the blue, looking up to the space platform and the sky turning purple. I had a good twenty minutes with the elevator on overdrive, the platform still a speck.
I just had to breathe. I had time for that. And to doubt.
For the first time, I sincerely couldn’t remember why I was doing this.
The rest of the ride was thoughts running in circles. As the platform grew closer, the sky darker, I sensed the danger in my way. The Utopians had set up in the hanger. But there was a more distinct presence which stood out. Looking at it, it appeared as a matte painting. A frame over reality. In the metaphysical sense, the past and future were forced together. Someone was fucking around. Trying to travel into a specific future and magnetize the present towards it.
When had I seen that before?
Ali. Wulff had used mixed realities. It made sense now. He created potentialities wherein his students had worked together to prepare a spell to kill Ali. He picked the one that worked. Then, with none of the effort, he superimposed that reality on ours.
He wouldn’t have nearly the same amount of prep time as he did with the war games. But the power of infinite potentialities? It was unreasonably stupid.
The platform was about to swallow the elevator, now. The atmosphere was beneath me, the cold of space all around me.
It disappeared as metal encapsulated the glass. Quickly decelerating to a stop, the illuminated floor turning brighter. A clean white light tinted by the red splotches across it. The doors connected to an airlock, the open button lit up beside it.
With a groan, I got up. I shook my head and leveled my eyes on the door. The Utopians were all behind it, waiting in the hanger bay. Wulff was there to fix the game. There was nobody to get my back. That was the way it was.
I put my hand on the button but didn’t press it. I waited, distinctly aware of my own heartbeat. Rubatosis. An aching, beating dread. I knew I wasn’t going to get away this time.
Shut up and do the job.
I pressed it and stood back. The doors slowly parted.
The Sentinel was in the middle of the Eidolons. They all faced the opening doors, to their back the giant hanger bay exit was closed.
The Magi wore helmets and suits. The armored Sentinel stepped forward and for probably the third time today, he ordered me to step down. “Drop your fucking sword.”
My fingers were melted together. But that was beside the point.
“I can’t do that,” I replied.
I cut a gash in the ground. To them, it would look like I was threatening. There was another purpose. Each time I damaged the permanent form of the space station, it was irreversible. It changed the past and future, throwing off Wulff’s prepared potentialities by creating idiosyncrasies between them. It wasn’t going to be enough, though.
The Magi were already in attacking formations.
They will have prepared spells which can’t compromise the station. Violent depressurization would be deadly. Curses, manipulations, illusions.
I could shrug off curses. My essence was too reinforced to take effects, such as with wounds. I could break manipulations and see through illusions. I stepped through the door and planted my feet. Ready for this last fight.
The first three Magi punched out to create an intricate geometric spell. It glowed in the air before flashing away. It appeared again at my feet. A binding.
Sacred geometry, I observed.
The cut I’d already placed on the ground swallowed the light of the rune. It shattered into embers on the air.
The overlay I’d seen earlier appeared before my eyes. One of the Magi at the far corner raised their hand and snapped their fingers. At that moment, every perfectly placed person in the room matched the vision. The potentiality had been flawlessly overlaid. I couldn’t prevent it. I only had seconds. It was a destiny trap. I could try to make out the movements of the crowd, see the one Magi that was behind the rest suddenly start casting a spell.
There wasn’t anything I could do.
I was facing a steel wall. It was the hanger exit. What?
I’ve been displaced.
Quickly turning to see the silver Sentinel through the parted crowd, he dropped to one knee and outstretched both hands together.
The hanger doors snapped open, an air-shield holding in the oxygen from the vacuum now just behind me. I lurched forward and held up my Cleaver.
A continuous beam split off in two directions from the edge of my blade. It felt like stopping a car. The laser screaming past me, heating the air and disappearing into space. I held on with both hands, fighting to keep my sword upright and blocking the attack.
The power of the beam was slowly growing, getting harder to hold.
An arrow pierced my leg. “Fuck!” I cursed. Another struck my arm. My leg buckled, putting me on my knees. Razor winds washed over me, stripping the skin off my scalp and neck. I cried out. A hex attached to my chest, sinking in and starting to petrify my innards. Crawling needles inside me.
The Sentinel doubled his effort. The metal of my sword turned white, the air around me blistered my face. The blue light was blinding. I couldn’t see the dozens of Magi taking turns taking shots at me. I couldn’t defend myself. Every sense was overtaken by the screaming noise from the beam splitting past my ears.
The pain was real and I couldn’t shut it out. The fused bones of my melted hand bending under the weight on the blade. The knife that slid between my ribs.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. This couldn’t be happening.
My hand slipped.
I threw myself to the floor, my skull cracking against a grate. I tried to swing my sword to defend myself, but nothing happened. My other hand clenched in pain, then finding a hold on the grate beneath me, taking a death grip. An arrow barely missed me, bouncing off the grate and into space.
“Let there be darkness,” I commanded.
The power died. The air-shield broke. Eidolons were ripped from their places with the escaping air. Thrown into the vacuum with violent force over my head. My legs were pulled out from under me, but I didn’t let go. In an instant, the room had been cleared, lit only by the light of the moon, now. Open to space, filled with the emptiness. Perfect calm.
I let out my breath and sat up on my legs. Pulled the arrow from my thigh. My focus had to steady, the pounding in my ears quieting. Without air, the noise of my body pulsed through me. All the blood freezing in space.
I looked down and to my right. My arm was burned away up to the shoulder.
Oh God. My eyes widened.
“Doran,” the Sentinel said. His helmet folded back. He grimaced at me. His face was wrinkled, his expression angered. But I saw, in his face. He looked so much like me. In his eyes, I recognized myself. The same determination. I doubted I could even recognize my own face, anymore. So many in my head.
I didn’t need air to project. “Look what you’ve done,” I said, horrified. I put my hand on the stump. I looked to my missing arm again. I screwed my eyes shut. Jesus Christ, I knew what this meant. I knew what this fucking meant. I was a fucking idiot for believing a goddamn lie.
“I know what you do,” the Sentinel told me. “You can’t outrun physics.”
I pushed up to my feet and he fired again. I put out my remaining hand to catch the beam. “I won’t die!” What I had left stopped the hit.
He let up. I could see the confused look on his face. It passed in a moment. He watched me hit my knees again, only bones left beneath the elbow on my left arm.
It was a bluff, now. I had nothing left, only the lie. That was all I had.
“Oh, my God. You don’t know,” I whispered.
He fired again, stripping more flesh from my arm as the energy slipped between my fingers. “You can die, Doran. I know.”
“No!” I shouted. I fell forward, my one hand catching me. I tilted my head up. “I said I wouldn’t die… Not that I couldn’t.”
“There’s no reason I wouldn’t kill you.”
“That… you have no idea. It’s all a trap, Sebastian.”
He didn’t respond.
I told him the truth. “All of it, every moment of your history is meant for this. It’s me. The entirety of Utopian history is a trap set for me. Your entire universe is a design. A fucking trap set to bring the end of everything. Christopher has been with you from the beginning. He doesn’t see the future, he makes it. He planned it from the beginning like God. If I don’t make it, what do you think he’ll do with you? He fucking made you. He started the spark of your universe and orchestrated every step. It’s common for Primordials. To grow universes from scratch. If it doesn’t work, if I fail? He reclaims your substance. Everything you know returns to darkness. Taste it. It’s in every ounce of your existence. A deep drive to purpose. You think it’s the Cause? It’s his fucking purpose! His machination.”
“I don’t believe you,” he stopped me.
“Then kill me… and watch your world blink out. Because there’s never been a choice. Not for you, not for me, or… Anna. It’s all for this, Sebastian.”
I knew it didn’t matter anymore.
I was broken.