“Keep your eyes peeled,” Porter warned them.
They cleared corners and stalked the halls. This place was old, he knew. Beneath the civilized lunar colonies had been the original network of tunnels. Beneath the ground, you could keep air pressure and spread out without too many extra materials.
The network was big. Access to the surface would be limited.
After all, you couldn’t have anyone letting out the air.
They had a bigger problem. “Can any of you survive the vacuum?” Porter asked.
The Sorcerer spoke. “I can give the others that ability. You’re good?”
“I am.” But it wasn’t that he was worried about. They weren’t alone down here.
The Sorcerer was having the same thoughts. “You helped bind the Ouroboros, didn’t you?”
“I was the lead on that, yes.” He knew his line of thought. “But that doesn’t mean we can do anything. Not against something like this.”
The halls were nearly pitch black. They turned into another room, what looked like a cafeteria. The chairs were upturned on the tables, the air like a sludge of dust.
Porter explained in a strained whisper as they walked. “I don’t know what we’re up against here. We had time to design an antithesis with the Ouroboros. All we know this time?”
Wulff picked up his thought. “It’s a cancer. Some runaway metaphysical element of the human experience that was common and potent enough to seep into the framework.”
“A Horror,” he agreed.
They all froze as the sound of a chair crashing broke the quiet.
The Sorcerer’s hands flew. Porter reached out to stop him, but before he could, they had summoned a fire which spread out across the floor like the ignition of a heavy gas. It gave light to the outer corners of the room. It crawled over dead bodies which had been out of sight between the tables. When it had reached the wall it quickly burned out, leaving them in darkness again with maladjusted eyes.
Porter dropped his arm and exhaled deeply.
“Let’s just keep movi-”
A wet and deep, hot breath doused the back of Porter’s neck.
Time stretched out as he pushed away and spun around. Catching a glimpse of glassy, reflective eyes, two heads taller and leering over him. He jutted out his hands, trying to put the hulking figure at arm’s length.
Instead, his own push shoved him back with the others. Touching it, icy chills shot up his arms, pinprick tingles crawling over his skin.
The elephant man breathed raggedly.
The five of them backed up as far as they could. The elephant man was so still.
“Quinn,” Wulff hissed, a terror in his voice. “Don’t let it near me.”
He didn’t reply. Porter clenched his hands, trying to dispel the coldness settling in them. It was like he could suddenly feel the weight of the rock burying them. Everything was distorted. Like watching a stone dropped down a well, everything was shrinking around him.
“Christ,” his voice quivered. He beat his forearm against the tables beside them as hard as he possibly could. The pain shocked him back, steadied his voice. “Don’t let it touch you,” he said.
The elephant man tottered forward, seemingly off balance. Like a drunk.
It swung its trunk like arms and sent a table end over end. It wailed, trying to form syllables in a shrill noise.
Wulff hurdled the tables. “Run!”
The other four followed him, jumping the tables and trusting him to know which way he was going. If there was a way out of this, it would be him.
The elephant man broke into a lumbering run. It barreled through obstacles, knocking them aside.
They hit the back wall and sprinted. The elephant man had fallen to all fours, loping after them. Porter’s eyes locked on the exit further away. An unlocked door and beyond a half-lit kitchen. Wulff was in the front, the Sorcerer in the back.
As they burst through the door, the Sorcerer caught his foot in the doorway. Arms flew out with a shout, “Crush and chill of the deep, force of ocean depth!”
A blue light filled the cafeteria, ice forming on every surface. The thin metal of the tables crumpled under an invisible weight. Suddenly, looking back, Porter could see the elephant man unhindered. A human tank, eyes recessed and no discernable neck.
“Back!” he bellowed. Porter dove.
The elephant man threw itself into the doorway. The Sorcerer’s eyes widened as he realized he’d done nothing to stop it. The behemoth burst through the doorway and half of the wall aside, rolling over him and through rolling metal shelves.
The four of them pulled themselves up and started running across the kitchen.
They ran through a large door and closed it shut behind them. A soft white light filled the place. Porter counted heads. Wulff, the Eidolon, and the Healer. The Healer looked shaken.
As his eyes darted for an escape, he realized.
Oh, fucking hell.
“This is a freezer.” Wulff kept backing away from the door until he hit one of the room’s pillars. The shelves were empty. He looked desperately for an exit. Freezers had only one exit. It was pointless.
“Wulff! Focus!” Porter barked.
“No!” he cried. “He’s coming for me.”
“Why you?!” the Eidolon asked, deeply disconcerted.
Porter grabbed Wulff’s shoulders, slamming him against the pillar. “What did you do?!”
“I…” he looked nervously over Porter’s shoulder at the locked door.
“I’m helping Elicht.”
“Christopher! I knew! I knew when he came to my class. He taught me.”
“Damn.” Porter pushed away. He ran a hand through his hair, hanging his head. “Damn,” he repeated. “That’s not okay.”
“Guys…” the Eidolon said.
Wulff slid down to the floor. “He wanted me to help him. He saw the work I was doing in causal manipulations. He showed me the truth of metaphysics, of everything. He’s just bringing on the inevitable, Porter. All intelligent life externalizes its desire for comfort to the point of entropy. All the struggle is to end the struggle. To bring the final form.”
“Something’s not inevitable if you have to make it happen, you fuck.” Porter stared off into space, trying to think of a way out. He couldn’t teleport now, not when his place in space mattered. No, that was cheating. A small smirk found his lips.
“Rory!” the Eidolon yelled.
The healer had pushed a hanging meat hook into his eye socket. He went limp, the chain snapping taut and his body spinning in place.
Porter didn’t know why he’d smiled. “He tripped,” he said. “It must have brushed him.”
“If it touches you?” the Eidolon asked, horrified.
The freezer door jumped on its hinges, the center deforming.
If it wanted in, it would be in. It was knocking.
Wulff started bawling. He knew he was going to die. He knew it for a fact. Like it was happening before his eyes, Porter knew.
“You,” he motioned to the Eidolon. “Press up against the wall beside the door with me. It’s going for Wulff. If it breaks through, we go behind it. Don’t let it touch.” He crouched beside Wulff. “Is there a point to trying?”
Wulff knew what he’d meant. He shook his head, forcefully.
Porter stood. The two of them pressed against the wall. As the freezer door fell flat, they slumped down. The naked, pale elephant man lowered its head to come through. It walked straight past them.
Wulff heard their footsteps disappear out of range, into the kitchen.
He buried his face in his hands as he felt the shadow of the horror come over him. The only sound its heavy, deep breath.
A finger touched his chin. His face was raised up.
Aziacht’s scrutinizing gaze searched Wulff’s eyes for something. “You’re not a brilliant man,” he said.
Wulff’s mouth opened, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak.
“Not a brilliant man, but an effective piece.”
“You’re going to kill me.” He could see it with his waking eyes. All the ways it could happen. A thousand deaths all at once flashing before him. Then, they all just became one.
“You’re going to do it. I’m going to watch.” Aziacht pointed to the hooks. “Because you got something wrong,” he told him. “All the struggle is to survive. To fight entropy. It’s survival that has no point. And that’s something you’re about to experience.”
Porter and the Eidolon came running through the door and into the light. Soft, reflected light from off the earth.
They crouched down to catch their breath, the Eidolon looking back, worried to be staying still.
Porter stared up at the glass ceiling above. “It’s alright,” he said.
“But the… thing… It’ll be following.”
“No.” He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “They were just after Wulff. This was a trap for him, Christopher’s ace. He doesn’t care about you. And he wants me in the fight.”
“Gee, thanks.” He wheezed. “I thought you were… a problem for him.”
“I’m part of his trilemma. I’m part of his game… Get on the radio, soldier.”
The Eidolon found a terminal, plugging in his device to broadcast for Solidarity.
Porter continued to stare, baffled. Every star in the sky above. Gone.
He’d boxed them in. Every universe, every star, and planet. The Monastery. He’d stolen them all from the sky. Like they’d never mattered at all.
There would be no retreat. Porter could see it, now. Somewhere on the surface of the world, Aziacht would have them prepare. The location would be waiting for them.
“I’ve got them. Teleport incoming.”
That place would be where time ended. Porter felt, now. He wasn’t sure. But he thought it might not be that truth was on his side.
There was nothing left between it and them, now. No stop along the way. No trials or procrastination. The end of time, clearly in sight. He wasn’t ready.