There was the sound of a shot, and Ryan slumped against the door frame, eyes to the ground. Everything was over now – all chances, all choices, all of the tiny fantasies.
Taylor, rough as always, pushed past him. ‘About time,’ he growled. ‘They’re always slow.’
Confused, he looked up. Stef, eyes wide with the shock of still being alive, stood flanked by two Enforcers. One was holding the gun, which was pointed to the side of her head, singed hair telling true of just how it had been. The gun was pulled from her stiff hand and required away. Without one word, they each grabbed an arm and shifted her away.
‘You did this?’ he asked, looking up at the larger agent.
‘You’re blaming the wrong agent, sir,’ Taylor said, jutting his head in Jones’ direction. Taylor then took a step and shifted away – presumably following the Enforcers, to enjoy the execution, to gloat. Emma simply huffed and shifted away herself.
Betrayal weighed heavily inside him, taxing his sick form even more. ‘How could you?’ he asked as he turned to Jones.
‘I only did what I had to, sir,’ Jones replied. ‘You were too close to the situation. I did what you could not.’
‘And you had Taylor sign off on it.’
Jones kept his expression neutral. ‘He was…more than happy to help. If you’ll excuse me…’
He grabbed Jones’ lab coat as the thin agent made for the door. ‘You did your duty,’ he said through gritted teeth, his knuckles going white with effort as he gripped the fabric. ‘But you could have said something. Anything. You could-’
Jones pulled himself away. ‘How did you expect this to end, sir?’ he asked. ‘How did you really expect it to end? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m needed downstairs.’ He smoothed out his lab coat and shifted away.
He stamped his foot on the roof, spidery cracks spreading out under his boot. He huffed, straightened his sweaty shirt and shifted to the very bottom floor of the Agency. Jones was alone in the large room – he sat behind a large console opposite a crystal chamber that vaguely resembled a coffin.
He fought the urge to punch smaller agent – it was such a…Taylor response, to beat something that displeased you. He decided against the violent route so opened his mouth.
‘Sir, I have nothing you can take from me,’ Jones said before he could say a word. ‘No personal freedoms that I take beyond what is owed to me, I have no recruits you could transfer as petty revenge – it was already an Enforcer decision for Merlin to be mine. And sir,’ he said as he looked up from the console. ‘You need me. You may not always appreciate me, and you do not thank me enough for all that I do, but sir, you do need me, whether or not you like me right now.’
‘Where are they?’
‘Pre-reclamation scan. They’re here now.’
The door to room slid open, two the enforcers practically dragging the small girl. Jones hit a button and the chamber door split in two, a hiss of gas and cold air escaping into the room. He stepped forward, but Jones’ face invaded his vision. [Don’t say anything, sir. She just chose to kill herself, and you know why. There is only one way that this can play out. They’ll deal with you next, but for this moment, let her know that you’re safe. It’ll be easier on her if she knows you’re safe.]
Jones kept his face impassive. [Trust me when I say that nothing you say or do right now will change anything. They’re here, the situation is in their hands, the decisions are theirs. Anything you want to say will only make the situation worse.]
[How can it get any worse?] he asked as he watched one of the enforcers push the girl towards the chamber. She looked up at him for a sign, for a direction, for anything.
[It can always get worse. Please, trust me for once.] Jones said.
Stef looked past him for a moment, then back to him, a strangely out of place smile on her face. He wanted to grab her, to run, to beg her to take the sanctuary of any Court. He wanted to ask them why they were doing it this way – though his assumption was that this was the most “humane” way of to dispose of a piece of mirror animating a human – it was kinder than simply tearing it from her chest. He wanted to throw down his unfinished letters of defense and beg the Enforcers not to let this happen. Harming the innocent was something to be avoided at all costs, because the cost of doing so was far too great.
The mirror, the danger, wasn’t some cold chunk of planet lying on the ground the morning after a mirrorfall. It wasn’t something recovered after a raid on a demon establishment. It wasn’t…well, it was still a danger, it was still potentially a weapon, still potentially the end of the world.
But it was also a heart.
The law was the law. The right choices didn’t always feel right. The world was never controlled, the only thing you could control was the moment. He stepped forward, and required himself into his suit, it wouldn’t be fair for it to end any other way.
With hands that were only shaking a little, she climbed into the chamber – unaided, and without coercion – and leaned back against the chamber wall.
Jones hit another button and the chamber doors resealed, forming into one unbroken piece of crystal again. Another few keys saw restraints wrap around his recruit’s body, holding her firmly against the back of the chamber – agents were unable to break through the restraints, humans stood no chance.
‘By your leave, Jones,’ the taller Enforcer said.
Jones stared at up him for a moment, then hit the final sequence. He stared at his recruit and whispered a goodbye, hoping for some sort of peace for her.
Gas filled the chamber and began to disintegrate her – ghostly hands balled into fists and an eyeless face stared out of the chamber.
It was all over in a few moments.
* * * * *
Stars and distant galaxies wheeled under Stef’s feet, a tiny comet burning her face as it rushed past.
She took a moment to take it all in, this wasn’t Death’s realm, this was something else, this was something new.
She took a step and whatever was holding her up disappeared – she fell through the universe, through the multiverse, through the hearts of galaxies and left trails in huge nebulas. Stars grew and shrank as she watched, making her as small as a speck in comparison, or the stars small enough to be held in the palm of her hand. She couldn’t close her eyes – everything was so amazing, everything was so beautiful, it wasn’t an experience she wanted to hide from.
She stopped falling and landed on a flat, non-existent surface. A planet hung in the space to her right – a huge green orb roughly as tall as she was – spun slowly. There weren’t huge oceans as there were on Earth, rather an abundance of inland seas and interconnected lakes. The world spun and grew in her vision and she saw that the tiny polar caps played host to glittering cities made of ice, or of crystal…the cities she’d seen in her dreams.
Her heart rumbled as the auroras shone rainbows over the cities, and suddenly she knew where she was.
‘Dajulveed…’ she whispered. She reached out for the world – she couldn’t touch it, the tingly static field of the atmosphere stopped her.
With a tiny pop, the planet began to shrink, until it was smaller than her dirty shoe. She knelt on whatever invisible platform was holding her up, poked it with her finger, and it broke open like an egg. A great wind encompassed her, surrounding her and then, pulling her closer to the egg. As she got closer, whatever remnants she’d had of perspective disappeared, leaving her unsure as to whether or not the egg was growing larger or she smaller – or if size even mattered in this place.
She tumbled through the sky of the tiny piece of world in the egg and landed softly on a patch of grass. She rolled onto her back, looking up at the patchy sky – parts of it were the star-filled space she had come from, other parts were a simple sunset sky, a warm rainbow of colours playing out over the clouds.
One by one, monsters came from her chest and scampered off into the woods – the tiger, a snake, a spider, and half a dozen more that didn’t have close Earth analogues, just amazing flashes of colour scampering off to hide.
She lay there for a moment more, wondering what to do, if there was anything to do, or if this was it, if it was just going to be her, an LSD trip of a dead planet and a rainbow of ghost animals. She took a deep breath, appreciating that at least the grass was soft and that no-one was trying to shoot her.
There was a rumble beneath the surface of the world, and she jumped to her feet. Half a dozen of the tall trees to her left fell, making a clear path to a shining lake. She pushed herself up and walked down the freshly-cleared path.
Her heart hummed and vibrated as she stepped onto the sand, she took a few steps toward the lake, unsure of what to do, then looked back toward the forest. The path no longer existed, as the trees had picked themselves back up and made the impenetrable tree line. Something caught her eye though, her footsteps through the sand had turned to glass.
As she stared at the glassy impressions, they cracked and lifted into the air, then shot into the lake. Seeing no point in being afraid, she continued to the very edge of the lake, tiny waves lapping at her dirty sneakers.
A tree walked past her, its trunk split into the rough shape of a man – it strode into the water until it reached the centre of lake and sank down until not even its topmost leaves could be seen. The rest of her footprints shattered and flew into the lake, decorating the surface like diamonds.
Her heart screamed and she stumbled away from the edge of the lake in time to see it lift fully from the land, like a large bowl. It rotated slowly, not spilling a drop as it lifted into the sky.
Then the sky fell.
Clouds and sharp piece of solid colour clattered on the ground around her, mad, shrieking, horse-headed bolts of lightning rushed past before crackling out of existence. Thunder shook the ground, threatening to shake the very world apart.
Above her, the lake-bowl turned inside out and rained down the water in continuous streams, leaving her in a sparkling, wondrous cage. The water slowly pooled around her feet, then began to rise when it was unable to escape.
The man-tree that had apparently drowned itself was firmly rooted to the bottom of the lake-bowl. Slowly, he began to extend downward, his roots and branches curling into one another until it reached the bottom, then wove into pathways for her to walk on.
She jumped onto one and ran to the very edge of the watery cage, touching the flow when she reached it.
It froze like ice, and slowly crystallised, a silver sheen following it.
Mirror. It had turned into mirror.
The water slowly stopped flowing, turning into mirror until it felt like she was trapped in some sort of meta fun-house. Her reflection grinned at her and danced away, joining a hundred others. Some looked exactly like her, others were worse for the wear, some were dressed as though they belonged in Solstice. Some were dead – by car accident, gunshot or mirror. Some were pregnant, bellies heavy with the next generation. A few were dressed in the clothes of professionals, only a quietly beeping ankle bracelet as a clue to a criminal past. All her. All not her.
There was something else in the mirror – something that wasn’t a reflection of her. A huge dark shape lumbered closer.
It’s a fucking mirror, genius, turn around!
She did, but there was nothing in the watery room aside from the tree and the slow trickle of remaining water. When she turned back to the mirror, the dark shape was gone.
Her heart jumped from her chest.
She screamed and clutched a hand to her chest, but after slowly counting to ten and finding herself still conscious, she felt brave enough to open her eyes again. Her heart hovered in the air in front of her, as she reached for it and it flew into the mirror in front of her. She touched the mirror again, and this time, was sucked through.
The room she found herself in was roughly the same size as the one she had just left, though this one was completely Spartan, there was nothing in it. No trees, no water, no mysterious dark shape.
Only one reflection stared back at her this time, and it smirked as though it knew something that she did not. It looked up, then faded away, leaving her staring into a mirror with no reflection.
The mirrored wall rippled and suddenly she was looking at a rocky outcrop. At the very top of the outcrop was the bottom half of a man who looked as though he was made from stone himself – sandaled feet were overgrown with thin, wispy grass, bare legs were home to lichen and tiny birds. His top half was beyond her vision, beyond what the mirror could show her. Only a huge hand hung down, a strange rocky hand, whose number of fingers seem to change every time she blinked. The massive hand, which may have been the size of a room, or a world, held her tiny silver heart in it.
He closed his hand and she heard it crunch, when he opened it again, only mirror dust remained. It stayed in his hand for a moment, like a small pile of salt ready to be thrown over a should, before a strong breeze whipped it from his hand. It was all picked up, spinning as though inside a tornado for a moment. All she could do was watch it, unsure if it was coming back to her, or if this was-
The mirror dust began to move away, and a cry she didn’t remember starting came from her throat. The dust stopped, then whipped back through the mirror, catching her up in the windstorm, lifting her from the floor and spinning her until she was dizzy.
Blood pumped from her chest, and expelled tiny red chunks of what she could only assume were the remains of her human heart, fell from her body and fizzled out of existence when they hit the ground.
The mirror dust began to invade the hole in her chest, the tiny particulates choking her until they all coalesced into her heavy, cold heart again.
It dropped her on the ground and she felt it beating. It was a strange, pulsing sensation – not a normal human heartbeat. It was the heartbeat of two people, of ten, of a hundred, of a star, of a galaxy, of…
When she sat up, the giant in the mirror had disappeared, replaced with her all-knowing doppleganger. It smiled once, kindly, then turned away and walked deep into the mirror before fading away.
‘My father can only be seen in reflections,’ Death said. ‘While existence remains, they are all that is left of him.’
‘Nowhere. Everywhere, inside you, inside him, inside the ghost of Dajulveed. Does it really matter?’
‘I guess not.’ She took the proffered hand and stood. ‘So what-’
‘The ghosts had to be laid to rest. He doesn’t like mirrors to be in states of unrest.’
‘I…saw the painting,’ she said, hoping the reaper would know what she was talking about. ‘Why-?’
‘It wasn’t your time,’ Death said. ‘And you needed someone to hold your hand.’
She looked to the mirror, and this time, only a regular reflection looked back at her. ‘I should be soliloquising,’ she said as a dozen thoughts tried to manifest themselves as words. ‘I should be regretting how I fscked up my story, or that maybe it wasn’t my story after all. I should be-’
‘There are not “shoulds,”’ Death said kindly. ‘There is only what is. No one lives their life according to a script.’
‘Tell that to Dorian.’
‘I am positive he already knows.’
She turned to look at Death. ‘Ryan… is he…?’
‘You can put your fears to rest.’
‘If you want guarantees about what will happen in the world, you need to speak to my sister, I am separate from that.’ Death took a step toward her and removed her hood, her “human” face showing. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Ready for…I thought I wasn’t yours anymore…’
‘I am the gatekeeper,’ she said, a maternal smile on her face, ‘but I’m also the ferryman, I’m here already, so if you’ll allow me, I’ll take you to where you’re going. You aren’t mine, but I can do this for you.’
‘What’s next?’ she asked.
‘It’s not my place to tell you.’
She stared at her dirty shoes, too afraid to ask for- Death took her hand. She clutched it like a child would their mother’s hand whilst crossing a dangerous road, and they began to walk across the floor. After a few steps, the world faded. After a few more steps, she was taking steps with feet that didn’t exist anymore.
Yeah, I know, I’m scared too.
After a moment, the only sensation was of her hand being held. One tiny feeling in the dark. One tiny happy thought with which to fly. One last tiny wish granted.
Everything stopped and went black.