WARNING: Contains some violence, guns, blood, and slightly macabre imagery and descriptions.
Tad wondered if it would have been better for him to stop already. The monsters had kept attacking, and he had swiftly and cleanly sliced them to pieces. Had the monsters not been dreams of a little girl with a limited understanding of how living beings worked, it would have been quite messy and graphic. Tad always went for the clean, quick kills, but very few kills were truly clean. Luckily these monsters vanished into stardust instead of slumping down in gory heaps of severed heads and corpses. These monsters only bled when they were stalking them and wanted to scare Emily.
Tad ducked under a monster’s horizontal swipe and at the same time sliced its throat open. Instead of a shower of blood, only darkness spilled out, and the monster vanished. Tad looked back at Emily.
“Okay, Emily, I really need you to focus. This kind of thing is… probably not good for someone so young to see.”
He nodded towards the vanishing monster corpse.
“Besides, that one looks familiar.”
Emily nodded, looking fearfully at the spot where the corpse had been.
“You already made it go away. Why did it come back?”
“Exactly,” Tad said, “I am glad that I can make you feel safe, but that is not enough. Not like this. They will keep coming back. We need to get out of here. And for that, we need to talk.”
Emily looked up at him, eyes wide.
“About mommy? But… you’ll just say she won’t come back.”
“Yes. Because she will not.”
Tad put his scythe down and crouched down in front of Emily.
“I am so sorry to put you through this, but you have to know what I am so that I can get out.”
He paused and waited for Emily to reluctantly look at him. There were tears in her eyes. Tad would have preferred to do this without making her cry, but it was probably inevitable. It was moments like this that made him hate himself.
“Dying means that one’s life is over. When your mother was hurt, I came for her. And you are right about me helping her, but I only helped her to die. I gave your mother’s soul a way to pass on, to leave her body and go away to wherever people go when they die. That is what the Grim Reaper does. I am Death, the gatekeeper for souls who need to leave their bodies because the body is too broken or old to keep on living. Your mother died because her body could not survive the wounds she sustained.”
“It… in this case it means she had got many wounds.”
“Oh. I… I know she did,” Emily whispered, “It was scary. But you… she thought you were nice. Why would she think that if you were going to take her away?”
“Because she knew that she would not have survived. All those who live have their time. That was your mother’s. I am sorry it came too early.”
“So… so why does life have to end? Why can’t she come back?”
Tad hated doing this more and more. But he had to. He hesitated for a moment before laying a hand on Emily’s shoulder in what he hoped was a comforting gesture.
“Like I said before, that is just how this world works,” he said, “I… well, think of it like this: this world lives in a constant cycle. Things are born, and things have to die as well so that the world doesn’t get too crowded. And life… life is something one can do only once. Well, some believe that they do come back after they die, but even then they would never return in the same form. Your life is unique, and when it is over, you pass away and leave space for others to have a chance at their lives too. Do you understand?”
Emily nodded slowly, and tears started to fall. Sure, it was a lot for her to handle, but some locks in her mind were opened, so to speak. Tad felt stronger, more like himself.
“B-but I want mommy!” Emily cried, “If you made her soul go away, can’t you bring it back too?”
Her tears broke Tad’s metaphorical heart, but he still had to say the words she would hate to hear:
“No. I cannot. It would not be fair.”
“But mommy dying isn’t fair either!”
“No. It is not.”
This was usually when people said something along the lines of: “I hate you”. Tad braced himself for it. It would hurt a lot more than usually if it was Emily saying it. But Emily just sobbed and didn’t seem to be able to speak at all. In a way that was even worse.
He put his arms around her, and she cried for a long time, when the death of her mother finally started to sink in deeper than it had before. Tad knew that even if he could get out in time so that he wouldn’t cause too much damage to Emily’s psyche, she would still need a lot of time to heal.
Wet, sloshing breathing interrupted his thoughts. Emily gasped and curled up tighter in his arms.
“Emily… there you are.”
The voice that Emily had told belonged to the worst monster was right behind them. Out of the corner of his eye, Tad saw blood pooling under his knees. Emily started breathing in short, panicked breaths.
“Emily, stop running.”
Tad slowly turned his head. He met the monster’s eyes and sighed mournfully.
“Oh, Emily. I am so sorry.”
A bloodied mockery of Erica Sato’s face stared back at him.
Twinbrook looked the same as before, but something still wasn’t right. It was as if a few pieces in a huge jigsaw puzzle had been switched around, but it was difficult to tell which ones. The air was heavy with stuck souls, and they cried out for help somewhere at the edge of hearing. Amelia, Vanja, and Novak crept towards the cabin, all the while on the lookout for danger or signs that they’d been spotted. So far it had been quite easy. So easy that Amelia still had a hard time believing that it wasn’t a dream, that they had made it here.
Back in Riverview, Vanja had gathered them around herself, advised them to keep their eyes closed, and muttered a long litany of foreign-sounding words. After that Amelia had felt a strange feeling of the world vanishing for a millisecond, and then her feet hitting a different kind of terrain. Her heart had skipped a beat upon landing. She had taken a moment to feel the ground under her to make sure it was real. The hospital floor had been replaced with soggy grass. It wasn’t quite like travelling with Tad; Tad’s teleportation was somehow smoother, more like they had always been where they ended up in. But Vanja’s method felt effective as well, if slightly more uncomfortable.
Amelia had looked down at herself to make sure she was still intact, and then she and the others had started walking. A motley crew of mortals bent on saving the world. It sounded like something straight out of a fantasy story. Or an action film. Or almost any story with high enough – sometimes overly dramatic and too often used – stakes, really. A small part of Amelia was excited. Another part – a much larger, much more sensible part – was screaming at her to think about what she was doing. She tried to ignore it. She was here to help a friend. If there was even a small chance that she could do something, she would take it.
They still had their plan… though it was still only half ready. It was mostly just: scout out the situation (Novak), counter possible magic (Vanja), and try to locate Tad and figure out how to help him. Amelia was supposed to tag along, help them spot possible danger and stay out of the way. It was at least something. Something she felt capable enough to do. She still wondered if she should have called Dewey after all, though. He would have been much better at this.
They were close to the cabin when Vanja stopped them. They hid behind a steep incline when they spotted a pale woman who stood in front of the house’s yard. Something about the woman felt familiar. Amelia tried to search her memory for the beautiful, violet-eyed lady, who… Amelia’s eyes widened.
“I know her,” she whispered, “She was in my backyard once.”
“And I know you, Amelia Sprigg,” the woman said, and Amelia was startled. She hadn’t though the woman had heard her so far away.
Vanja and Novak were immediately alert. Vanja raised her wand, but the woman didn’t seem to mind. She beckoned them closer.
“The Deacons are inside,” she said, “It is relatively safe to approach. Do not worry; I am a prisoner just like Death is. I am asking for help, and I can help you in return.”
Amelia grabbed Vanja’s arm in excitement.
“She knows Tad!” she said.
“Yes, I got that part,” Vanja frowned at the woman, “Who are you?”
“I am Fate,” the woman said, “I have been at odds with Death because of his little adventure, and now we can all see that my concern was warranted. But I want to help. Despite our differences, I never wanted him to get in trouble like this.”
“Where is Tad?” Amelia asked, “Is he hurt?”
Fate nodded towards the cabin.
“He is inside. The Deacons have a bunker under their cottage. Death went in there to save the little girl the Deacons took.”
“Who?” Amelia asked.
That explained why Tad had left to face them. Amelia paled. The Deacons had taken Emily? How dared they? She was just a child! Amelia stepped out of her hiding place and walked over to Fate, ignoring the frustrated warnings of her companions.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The Deacons had set a trap, and we both knew that,” Fate said, “But Death was too emotional, too careless. He was trapped by the Deacons’ spell, and I was caught in it as well. I am standing at the edge of their spell circle now.
“It’s huge,” Vanja said with some respect in her voice. Amelia started. She hadn’t even realised that Vanja and Novak had come to stand behind her, “They must have needed a lot of rare ingredients to pull this off.”
“Yes, yes, you can give them a medal later,” Fate said snippily, “Can you free me? Break the circle? Then I can take you to where I last saw Death. I will even help you break the protective spells they have set up closer to their cabin.”
“Why should we trust you?” asked Novak.
“You do not have to,” Fate shrugged, “But I did just give you a lot of information for free. Besides, you will have to break the circle anyway if you wish to free Death. That is what you are here for, is it not?”
Vanja crossed her arms. Novak hesitated, but eventually stepped forward.
“Fine. I wish to break the circle, and free the spirits bound by it.”
“Wait!” Vanja snapped, “Don’t-!”
He kicked the dirt in front of him. The faint line in the ground was disturbed, and Fate nodded approvingly. Amelia stared at the now slightly broken line in the ground.
“That’s it?” she had to ask.
“Yeah. I mean, for humans it’s just a circle.”
“But breaking it must have alerted the original caster!” Vanja huffed, “Now we’re sitting ducks here!”
“No we’re not,” Novak said, “Yet. And we had to do something anyway, right?”
“You seem to have your own plans we’re not privy to-“
“Would you shut up? I’m trying to wing it. Now hide!”
He ushered them all back behind the incline and crouched down into the grass. He was pulling something out of his pocket. Amelia still couldn’t figure out where he had got all his gear. Or even his clothes. Sure, Vanja had asked Amelia to bring a lot of obscure items from her store, but it seemed that Novak had a way of “finding” things he needed on his own. Now Novak had pulled out a small pouch and quickly checked that it had everything he needed, whatever that everything was. He nodded approvingly and then looked back up when someone emerged from the old cabin.
It was a blond man, whom Amelia recognised from the Altos’ party in Sunset Valley and from the pictures she had seen. Gaius Deacon, if Amelia remembered correctly. He would have looked mostly very friendly if it weren’t for… well, the fact that he had just emerged from a necromancer’s cabin where a little girl and one of Amelia’s best friends were being kept against their will. He walked over to the disturbed part of the circle, clutching a wand in his hand and looking around warily. Amelia realised that Fate had disappeared from view.
“Hello?” the man said quietly, and then waved his wand around skittishly, looking for targets, “Fate? Is that you? You know you can’t break the circle.”
Novak and Vanja shared a soldier-like glance, and Vanja pulled out her wand.
Gaius Deacon may have been expecting Fate or some strange universe-breaking phenomenon to leap at him, but he apparently hadn’t been prepared to be thrown off his feet by a flash of light from a sorceress’s wand. Gaius hit the ground, and Vanja muttered another spell that seemed to restrict Gaius’s movements. She rushed out of her hiding place, and Amelia scrambled after her without really knowing what to do except try to talk some sense into the man who now lay on the ground.
Vanja pointed her wand at him.
“Okay, Deacon,” she said sternly, “Stop this madness at once or I’ll turn your lungs into ash!”
“Wow, I wish I had your diplomatic skills,” Novak said flatly, “Look, man, we’re not here to hurt anyone who doesn’t want to turn reality inside out.”
Gaius stared at them, and Amelia tried to look at him comfortingly. It didn’t work as well as it could have. She didn’t really want to comfort a person who had possibly done something bad to her friend.
“Did you hurt Tad?” she had to ask.
“Who?” Gaius asked, “What the hell are you doing here? Get lost!”
“We’re the universe fairies who protect reality from idiots who play god,” Novak said, “Did you guys think it would be an awesome idea to start bullying the Grim Reaper?”
Gaius glared at them.
“I remember you now. You all were at the party. With Death. You tried to ruin my sister’s plan.”
He paused for a moment.
“Well, dad’s plan, really.”
Vanja stepped forward.
“Gaius Deacon,” she said, “I know you’re a very intelligent person. And we both know that meddling with the order of life and death is what sorcerers like us do. I’ve done my fair share of tampering with the world too. But you have to realise that something has gone wrong now. What did you do?”
Gaius was quiet for a long moment. Amelia was afraid that he was using that moment to telepathically summon reinforcements or something. She didn’t know what wizards could exactly do, but she had read enough books and seen enough magic to think it was perfectly plausible. Next to her, Novak seemed to brace himself for a fight. Or flight. She wasn’t sure which.
Finally, Gaius sighed.
“We managed to contain Death,” he said with a mix of worry and pride, “And dad said that no one can take that from us. We can fix this.”
“Yes, you can,” Amelia said, “By freeing him.”
Gaius tried to shake his head, but the spell held him in place.
“No,” he said, “I can’t let you. I… I’m sorry. But… I have to protect dad and Lydia.”
Vanja raised her wand, but Gaius was faster. He said a couple of words and was suddenly moving again. Amelia didn’t have time to react before she felt Novak grab her arm and yank her to the ground when lights started exploding above their heads. Vanja had stepped in front of them and was furiously chanting and waving her wand. She conjured a wall of light that was shattered by a blast of blue energy, and Gaius approached her warily while holding his wand in front of him like a sword. Vanja took a stance as well, and without even looking at her companions, began to fight. Light and smoke and foreign words filled the air, and Amelia felt her skin starting to tingle with the forces battling around them. It was scary yet beautiful, like a thunderstorm that made Amelia want to curl up underneath a blanket and watch the lightning from a safe place. This was not a safe place at all.
“Move!” Novak hissed at her, “And stay low. You don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.”
Amelia and Novak crawled and ran away from the duelling mages and the explosions and sparks, towards the cabin that was surrounded by more spell circles and probably even more magic. Amelia’s lungs burned and her heart beat too quickly out of fear and exertion.
“That Fate-woman said something about a bunker,” Novak said and didn’t even sound all that out of breath, “We have to find it quickly.”
“I can help with that,” said Fate.
Novak yelped, and Amelia too felt her heart skip a beat.
“What is it with you guys and your fetish of suddenly appearing and startling people?” Novak gasped.
“And I assume you would not exploit being able to instantly transport yourself to any place you wanted?” Fate countered, “Follow me. I too want this to be over as soon as possible.”
“Sure, whatever, as long as we get this done.”
They broke into a run again and circled around the cabin. Whatever shields had been around it broke down into invisible shards with a wave of Fate’s arm. The cabin’s door was slammed open once they stepped foot inside what used to be protected by magic. Lydia Deacon ran to the porch, leaped quite athletically over the old wooden railing and pointed a gun at them. Novak and Amelia instinctively retreated a little, and Novak pulled Amelia behind the nearest tree for some cover.
“Don’t move!” Lydia snapped, “You… oh, it’s you. I should’ve known.”
“Really? Surely you are smarter than this, Lydia. How long are you going to keep bending to your father’s will?”
“Shut up!” Lydia snapped, but Fate didn’t seem to listen at all.
“When you stole the gemstone and responded to my visit by summoning me, I thought that you really were shaping your own life. Your… well, fate, if you will. And you even had the potential to do some entertaining things with the gemstone, to dodge Death in creative ways. You had the smarts and the ambition. But no. Instead you turned out to be just a little girl craving for her father’s approval. How disappointing.”
Lydia’s eye twitched.
“Get the hell away from here,” she hissed, “Or I will shoot.”
“Why, because your father told you to?”
“Wow, somebody has daddy issues,” Novak whispered.
Another shape had appeared on the porch. Demetrius Deacon stood behind the railing with a look of rage on his worn-out face.
“Kill them, Lydia,” he said, “And then go help your brother.”
Novak put his hand to his face.
“Yeeeah… I don’t think these guys are going to listen to us,” he whispered, “I was kinda hoping Leifsdóttir would still be with us here, but I guess Deacon Jr. is a bit tougher than I thought.”
He pointed towards what looked like an entrance to something underground.
“C’mon, we have to keep moving when Fate distracts them.”
They started running, but were almost immediately stopped by a warning shot that made the ground sizzle. Amelia let out a small scream. Novak cursed.
“Okay, so Fate won’t distract them,” he muttered, “Run!”
They dashed through a field of explosions and sparks, with Amelia panicking and trying her best to keep up with Novak, who seemed to move like a professional soldier, quickly and effectively and managing to shield himself from debris without really slowing down. He dodged a nearby wisp of light and let it explode when Demetrius Deacon’s spell hit it. Amelia almost doubled over to stay as small a target as possible and wished once again that this all was just a bad dream. Mr. Deacon was advancing, firing spells and shouting like a madman. Lydia was following him, not firing her gun but still apparently ready to shed blood.
“Damn it!” Novak sighed, “There’s no way we can get anywhere like this.”
He took something out of his pocket and swerved left, away from the cabin. Amelia followed, not wanting to be left alone in the midst of chaos. Novak threw himself behind some bushes and started drawing something to the ground. Now Amelia could see that he had a piece of chalk in his hand.
“Stay low,” he advised, “This isn’t witch magic, but there are some things even regular guys like us can do.”
Spells flashed above them, and Novak waited until they were uncomfortably close before he finished the runes he had been scribbling and whispered a few words. Something flashed, and smoke started billowing from the runes in the ground. Amelia tried not to cough, and she only dimly saw Novak move. He turned and shoved something into Amelia’s hands. It was the pouch he had been carrying. A quick look told Amelia that it was filled with more pieces of chalk.
“Go,” Novak said, “I can distract these guys, but you have to get into the bunker. If the door’s locked, call for Fate and hope she’s as helpful as she claims she is. And if there are spell circles – there probably will be – mess them up with chalk and tell the circle you want the spirits freed in case it’s needed.”
“But I-“ Amelia began, but Novak shoved her shoulder.
“No time! Just go!” he hissed, “I’ll be fine!”
Amelia hesitated but knew that there was nothing she could really do at the moment but follow Novak’s instructions. She crawled across the smoke that was thick enough to obscure everything around her and hoped that she was going the right way. The smoke made her want to cough again, but she forced it down and listened to Lydia and Demetrius’s footsteps that were all too close to her. Demetrius was muttering some kind of spell again, and Amelia felt the smoke starting to disperse. Then Demetrius yelped, and something hit the ground. Amelia started crawling faster.
When the smoke cleared, Amelia saw – to her relief – the cabin and the bunker’s door again. Thank goodness her sense of direction hadn’t been completely messed up. She stood up, stumbled but managed to keep her footing, and started running. Behind her, the cloud of smoke kept dispersing and lights started flashing again.
Around her, the air was thick with all things wrong, and Amelia was very aware that she was not cut out for these kinds of heroics. She tried to push aside the pressure, and threw herself against the bunker’s door, hoping against all logic that it wasn’t locked.
To her surprise, it wasn’t. It swung open and Amelia stumbled straight through the hole in the floor. She tried to grab the ladder next to her, but only managed to clumsily reach for the steps before she hit the very hard floor and all air left her lungs. She got up and sat gasping on the cold, stone floor and hoped that nothing was broken. She had to keep going. She had to find Tad!
She managed to stand up and look around in the surprisingly comfy bunker. Tad was nowhere to be seen, but in the middle of a living space there was a couch, and on it slept Emily Sato. Amelia shivered at the thought of a little girl being pulled into this. Her foster family must be sick with worry. Emily was surrounded by more magic circles. One was directly underneath the couch she lay on. This one was the most elaborate, and seemed to radiate sinister energy. Amelia didn’t even want to look at it, but she knew she had to. She didn’t know if Tad was somewhere around, or if he had… she didn’t want to think about it. He had to be okay. Maybe if she broke the circles, he would be freed. She stood up and took the pouch Novak had given her. She reached for a piece of chalk, frowned when her fingers brushed something that didn’t feel like chalk at all, and then found a piece. She closed the pouch into her other hand and held the chalk in the other. She had a lot of circles to break.
Emily had buried her face into Tad’s shoulder.
“Make it stop!” she begged.
“Emily…” Erica – no, not Erica – rasped, “I found you again.”
Tad let go of Emily and turned to face not-Erica. He was unarmed, but that didn’t matter. He would not make Emily watch her mother – even a monstrous nightmare-version of her – get killed again.
“I will not fight you,” Tad said, “Please, leave us alone.”
Not-Erica gurgled like water pipes, struggled to draw in air like the real one had when she had been dying.
“I’m her mommy,” she said.
“No, you are not. Please leave.”
Not-Erica lifted her arm, her nails long and sharp. Tad looked at her wearily.
“Do you think you can scare me? Do you think I care whether or not I get hurt? There is nothing you can do that I have not seen before. However, you are scaring Emily, and I do not like that. This is not a good time for her to be facing her inner demons. So please, leave. We were having an important conversation.”
Not-Erica hissed. It did sound quite realistic and unnerving. This was really what Emily went through in her bad nights? He would really have to talk to Emily’s foster parents about this. She needed even more help than they had thought.
“Go away,” Emily chimed in in a very small voice, “Please… go away!”
Not-Erica let out another hiss and took a step forward.
“Leave,” Tad said and surprised himself. Had he just…? He felt more like himself again. More like Death and less exclusively like Tad Dustpine. He glanced at Emily, who stared at him with wide eyes. She probably had no idea that some pieces had started to fall into place in her mind. Once she woke up, she would have a lot to digest and to come to terms with.
Not-Erica had frozen, and suddenly she screeched like rusty metal and vanished. Emily started crying again.
“She’ll be back,” she managed to say between sobs.
“I know,” Tad said, “But I hope we can wake you up before that happens. You were very brave.”
Emily wrapped her arms around him again. She trembled, but at least she didn’t cry as much anymore.
“Thank you, uncle Tad.”
“Thank you,” Tad said, “And I am sorry.”
They stood in silence for a long while. The darkness felt a bit less heavy around them.
“Your mother loved you very much, Emily,” Tad said, “Do you remember the last thing she told me?”
Emily shook her head.
“She wanted me to help you,” Tad said.
Emily was quiet for a long while. Tad looked up from her only when something alerted him. It was the feeling of someone calling for him, trying to break the metaphorical bars of his prison. Relief made him smile. Someone was trying to free him! Just in time when he was feeling like himself again, when freeing him would actually work. Just when he was about to start wondering how he could call out to someone.
Emily looked up at him, alarmed.
“What is it?”
“Someone is out there,” Tad said, “Soon this will all be over.”
Many times, the fate of the world – well, usually a smaller part of the world – was decided through violence. Both in stories – usually far more glamorously – and in real life – more depressingly. And despite this particular battle being somewhat low-key and not outwardly earth-shattering, it was still a bunch of people clashing, firing spells, tricks and sometimes throwing punches.
It was Vanja and Gaius shouting words of power at each other, carving up the earth around them and filling the already saturated air with sparks and misfired spells.
It was Novak running through the woods, taking cover from magic and trying his best to keep Demetrius and Lydia’s attention away from Amelia and staying alive at the same time.
It was him taking chances to subdue them even for a few precious moments and then dashing back into cover, his head still hurting from the last time he had tried to play hero.
And it was Fate, watching it all without really seeing anything new. People almost always ended up taking up arms or waving their fists. Though in this instance, Fate had to admit that she too was almost ready to resort to some aggressive behaviour. She felt the universe struggling to keep together as whoever was substituting for Death tried their best to keep up even though they were probably just a tiny fragment of the Death that had sent them. She felt the energy and creatures that had been let in through the tear in the universe, some scared and some hungry, mostly invisible. She felt so many people going about their lives without even realising anything was wrong. When it came to cosmic truths facing problems, they were often quite unnoticeable on the grassroots level despite – or perhaps because of – their enormous scale.
Fate found herself rooting for these mortals. Not enough to interfere too much, of course – aside from helping with a locked door or two. Not even when she noticed that Demetrius Deacon managed to escape his fight with the thief. She could see many paths for these mortals, and some for the world. All in all, things looked quite good. Fate hoped Time was watching this. He had to be worried already.
Down in the bunker, Amelia Sprigg had no idea about what she was doing. She scratched lines over the circles in the floor, wishing spirits to be free like Novak had instructed her. So far nothing had happened, and Amelia moved on to the circle underneath the couch.
“Emily?” she called out, but just like the previous times she had tried to wake her, she didn’t even stir, “Hey, Emily? Can you hear me? Wake up!”
Emily was frowning in her sleep, but otherwise she seemed to be fine. Thank goodness for that. There was an earring in her ear, though. Amelia didn’t remember seeing it there back in Riverview. It had a piece of some kind of stone in it. A thought struck Amelia. Could this be a piece of the gemstone that had been stolen from Tad? Without hesitation, Amelia took the earring out. Emily still didn’t stir. Nothing felt different, but perhaps Amelia had done something to help. Amelia didn’t dare do more until she had broken the circle around Emily. She knelt back down next to the red marks in the floor, again recalling the litany of words Novak had used outside:
“I wish to break this circle, and… and free the spirits bound by it.”
She felt something. A small spark of power somewhere near Emily. Amelia drew a line over the circle’s outer edge. Another spark. Amelia felt her heart pounding. Maybe this was it! Maybe this would free both Emily and Tad, wherever he was.
She started to draw another line when she felt intense pain blossoming in her heart. She screamed, doubled over, and found herself twitching on the floor under the power of… something. She felt her heart slow down, and coldness dulled everything.
She breathed with difficulty, her vision dimming. She could faintly see Demetrius Deacon standing near the ladder. The man was frowning.
“What? You’re still alive? How… oh, right. Yeah. Death is not here now.”
Amelia felt her heartbeat struggling to keep going, and something told her that she was dying. That had Tad been where he should be, she would probably already be dead. Somehow, the thought didn’t freak her out as much as it should have. Maybe she was in shock.
Yep, definitely shock.
“Oh, well,” Demetrius Deacon was saying, “I can always burn you to bits. That ought to stop you from ruining my work.”
Amelia moved her hand, drawing more lines over the circle, furiously messing it up as well as she could with her numbing fingers. Demetrius raised his wand, but then he turned just in time to see Novak Sanguine drop down from the hole in the bunker’s ceiling and kick him in the face hard enough to muffle all possible spells that he might have been trying to cast.
That was all Amelia saw for a moment. That and a flash of darkness as something started to form in front of Emily, at the edge of the now broken circle. Then her vision dimmed, and she somehow realised that she had stopped breathing.
When Tad felt the magic that bound him shattering, he also felt hollow. Like something had gone horribly wrong. Like someone had to pay the price for getting him out. He saw Emily looking at him fearfully and hoped she would be alright. He felt far less disoriented, like he could see outside of Emily’s mind again. Then he saw nothing for a moment before the metaphorical curtains, the coffin and earth around him were gone and his senses were assaulted by the delayed deaths and the stuck spirits and the holes in the universe.
He reeled under the sheer volume of it all. How long had he been gone? Hours? Days? It had to be more than a day. He blinked and focused on regaining some kind of form. Tad Dustpine was the easiest at the moment, and he latched onto the memory of his presence that remained where he had been attacked. He let his feet touch the bunker’s floor and noticed the circle around Emily. It had been broken, and Emily was still asleep on the couch, the gemstone still – or perhaps again – gone from her ear. Novak Sanguine was standing next to an unconscious Mr. Deacon, staring at Tad with relief and worry.
“Hey, boss,” Mr. Sanguine said, “Um… sorry about not taking this son of a bitch down sooner.”
At first Tad didn’t know what he was talking about. He was still feeling dizzy from his sudden return. But then he noticed Amelia.
She was lying on the floor. She wasn’t breathing, but Tad didn’t even need to see that to know that she was dead.
Tad’s legs failed him immediately. He sunk to his knees in a perhaps needlessly melodramatic manner and let his hand brush Amelia’s shoulder. She wasn’t moving. Of course she wasn’t. Tad felt the pain of the deadly spell that had burned through her ribs, into her heart.
“Amelia?” he managed to choke out, “You… why did you do this?”
He didn’t need to hear an answer to that. He already knew. It didn’t make things any better. He was the last person in the universe anyone should die for. And yet, that was what Amelia had done. She had rescued him, and that was why… this had to be something he could reverse. He could… he could refuse her soul, right? This had to be an exception to the strictest rule in his existence. Amelia deserved more than this!
“I will fix this,” he said quietly, without thinking, “After… after I fix the universe.”
Time seemed to stop when he looked at Amelia’s surprisingly serene face. She had been his first real friend. She had cared about him, and he had cared about her. He had wanted to see her happy… And now… he had messed it up in the worst possible way. This was all his fault! Why did he have to…?
Wait, I should not have this much time to lament.
He looked around and realised that time had indeed stopped. The people around him were not moving, frozen into a nanosecond that stretched out for eternity in that moment. And Time himself was standing above Tad. He looked as furious as someone so unemotional could look.
“Death,” he said coldly, “You were finally freed. I trusted your judgement at least enough to think that you would not get so easily taken down. You put the entire reality at risk!”
“I know,” Tad said, “I am sorry.”
“Do you think that will be enough?”
“No. I will fix this.”
“You will,” Time replied, “At. Once.”
He looked around critically before he said the words that made Tad feel even more abysmal than he already did:
“After you are done with that, we will discuss your erasing.”
Author’s Note: Iiiiit’s a trainwreeeeeeck! Everyone, get out before it’s too late! I don’t even know if I’m talking about the quality of this story or the recent “plot”-developments.
I promise that the next two chapters will be dedicated to giving some closure to this mess.
Also Time apparently can’t make an appearance where he isn’t a stuck-up rule stickler and kind of creepy. To be fair, it comes with his job. It’s implied that at least in the past (and in the present in some cases), Tad has been similar but with slightly more emotion and more endearing awkwardness.