Read the entire short story ‘Rainbows And Icicles’ right here!
There’s something wrong with Jane. Red. Blood. Birds. Upside down isn’t right. Sideways is wrong. Sound. Crying. There’s something wrong with Jane. Blue. Guns. Whales. Down isn’t up. Anti-down isn’t left. Quark. Silence. There’s something wrong with Jane. Dead. Swimming. Awake. Sky. Clouds aren’t black-holes. Rivers aren’t white. Blood. More blood.
There’s something wrong with Jane.
“And you know this how?” Gavin asked.
Legion pointed angrily at the newspaper.
“It says right here,” they claimed. “The planet has a unified government. All countries are bound by the exact same laws. They’re a conglomerate of officials, all ruling autonomously. Sound familiar?”
They were in a humble coffee house situated in the centre of a lively metropolis. Skyscrapers poked the clouds, a constant stream of cars and trams rolled by, people rushed from work to enjoy their fugacious lunch hours, street performers contributed a musical element to the milieu of the persistently boisterous streets, a few rats scuttled through the shadows as the valiant liberators of forgotten food waste, unnecessary roadworks cluttered the litter-packed roads, horns honked, busses chimed as they pulled into their stops, sporadic arguments erupted between irate civilians, moody shop assistants irascibly served irked customers, and professional businessmen conducted faux-important seminars to determine the wobbly prospects of their prodigious enterprises. It was a crammed and highly efficient city, even the more secluded areas were filled with an urban cast.
Gavin was reminded irrevocably of his home ‘verse. This city was the closest he’d gotten to the atmosphere of his home. From what Legion had gathered this ‘verse, or at least this particular planet, had technology surpassing his home’s. But the feel of it, the way the city functioned and the people anxiously strolled from place to place, was undeniably reminiscent of the home he left nearly nine months ago. He was fixed on the passing patrol of people, scarcely paying attention to what Legion was talking about.
“What did you say?” he said.
“Doesn’t matter,” Legion mumbled.
“No, I’m interested. What were you talking about?”
“We were discussing the transient properties of breasts and their mesmeric effect on male brains.”
Gavin’s attention instantly changed.
“Now that we’ve got your attention again,” Legion smirked, “what’s wrong with you?”
He stared out the window longingly. Nine months was a long time to be away from home and it didn’t seem like he’d be returning anytime soon.
“It’s nothing,” he lied. “Where did Adrian go?”
Legion examined the busy coffee shop. Adrian was at the counter discussing a matter of life and death with an indifferent employee. The conversation wasn’t going well and he wasn’t sure if it was his fault or the barista’s that the proffered request wasn’t being met. Eventually the barista sighed and against her judgement handed over a jar of coffee in exchange for an excessive wad of money.
Adrian proudly returned to the table. Gavin raised an eyebrow at the jar.
“Why did you buy a jar of coffee?” he asked.
“You don’t remember?” Adrian squirmed. “If we go home empty handed this time…”
“Oh, god, I totally forgot. Good thinking. Rachel would have killed one of us.”
“That’s not true at all and you know it,” Legion said. “She’d kill all of us.”
“You’re dead anyway,” Adrian reminded them. “Why would you be scared?”
“Because it’s Rachel.”
Gavin muted the conversation once more, gazing out at the busy city. When he looked out at the passing masses, innocuously performing their habitual tasks in life, he was unfavourably reminded of a harrowing thought he often struggled to grasp. These people were blissfully ignorant of the multi-verse, of Lilith, of the Ogrohad, of the secret war being waged for their continued existence. All they knew was the confines of their tiny planet. That was the way it was supposed to be, he thought. One planet, one universe- a simplistic definition of life.
“Where to now?” Adrian asked, securing the jar in his bag.
“We follow the signal,” Gavin said. “We go where it takes us.”
“Do we know where that might be?”
“No,” he replied coldly. “Not a clue.”
Adrian and Legion traded a confused look.
“You know, if you stare hard enough,” said Legion, “you can actually see through the planet.”
Gavin rubbed his brow. He wasn’t in the mood.
“Let’s go,” he said, sighing. “We’ll hear it better outside.”
“Because the walls deafen extra-dimensional beacons?” Adrian joked.
“Extra-dimensional is a misnomer,” Legion argued. “This wasn’t from another dimension, that would be stupid. What dimension is it going to come from- length? Breadth?”
Ignoring the conversation Gavin hastily exited the café and entered the street, breathing in the crisp air. Like his home city, smog and pollution roamed freely. To most this would be distressing but to his yearning lungs and homesick mind it was a grateful boon.
Legion peered down the winding road, dodging an oncoming passer-by too engrossed in a phone call to notice them. Adrian, although getting used to an abundant supply of people and raucous cities, fought the urge to retreat to a smaller, more reserved area.
“You get that feeling, don’t you?” Gavin said. “That’s the city feeling, that’s the hectic atmosphere getting into your system. It’s like an addiction. Don’t bother fighting it, you’ll learn to love it.”
“If you think this is a hectic atmosphere it’s a good thing you don’t live in our head.”
From his inside pocket Gavin withdrew a rectangular metal device. An LCD screen covered the top half, unlabelled dials and buttons confusedly inhabited the bottom. No one was entirely sure how it worked. Before they left home Sean managed to get it functioning for their immediate needs but beyond that the original intention of the device was unidentified. It beeped every few seconds, highlighting a circular blip on the screen as a source of interest.
“Looks like it’s a while away,” Gavin announced. He bumped the device.
“Ah, hitting electronics to make them work,” mocked Legion. “That takes us back.”
“Does that actually work?” Adrian asked.
“Sometimes. Have you ever used a computer?”
“I used a… what’s it called again? Like table but not table.”
“A tablet?” Legion offered, trying not to smile.
“That’s it,” he confirmed. “A tablet. Weird thing, didn’t like it at all. You have to touch the screen, press stuff, cancel boxes, enter numbers and passwords and open… uh… windows. What’s wrong with an old fashioned piece of paper and a pencil? And why does everything have to be done electronically?”
Gavin rolled his eyes.
“We’ll need to take a tram or a bus,” he said.
“And then there’s that thing you showed me,” Adrian told him, ignoring the previous statement. “The internet. What’s the point in it? Just a bunch of weird pictures, weirder videos, people shouting at each other and arguing over nothing. It’s like a breeding place for stupidity.”
“We do live in a multi-verse, there are plenty of other substitutes for the internet. So stop moaning and focus.”
“A suitable substitute for the internet would be a dressed up cat dancing a jig and playing a keyboard while two people argue over whether or not the cat believes in God,” Adrian affirmed.
They boarded a tram that speeded across the city sprawl. Gavin kept one eye on the carefully concealed, beeping device, and the other on the whizzing scenery that fleetingly rekindled his homesick bubble. He wondered if Sean and Rachel felt the same, if they too longed for a visit to their shared home ‘verse.
While Adrian warmed the seat next to the breathing love ballad, Legion inspected the tram and its haughty dwellers. They observed their indifferent expressions, uncaring attitudes, but completely missed their annoyance at having a strange-looking man peer directly at them from behind the black of his polarised shades. Legion gawked intensely at a grimy, shaggy haired man more suited for a job with the mafia as a nameless, faceless thug. Like all forms of danger presented to them like an erupting volcano Legion was utterly unperturbed by the man’s blatant sneer.
“You got a problem, mate?” he said.
Legion examined him like a budding scientist.
“Several,” they replied.
“Do you want another one?” he threatened, clenching his fists.
“Not particularly. Are you aware that you’ve contracted chlamydia?”
The man puffed out his cheeks, ready to forcefully strike them.
“What?! You wanting a fight?!”
“Please, don’t touch us,” Legion whined. “We don’t want what you’ve got.”
The man rose from the seat, then to Legion’s mild shock continued to rise to a height of over six foot. His knuckles went white.
“Mate,” he seethed, “you’ve just signed your death warrant.”
“Oh,” they exclaimed. “That should be worrying, shouldn’t it? In fact it is worrying. But not really. We’re not worried. Are we?”
Gavin peeked over the glaring mass of people, groaning at the sight of Legion getting into another fight. It was like they purposefully tried to antagonise people.
“Legion!” he shouted. “Leave the man alone.”
“We want to play,” they shouted back.
“Please sit down. You can play when we’re off the tram. Leave the man alone.”
Huffing, Legion stamped their feet.
“Fine,” they said. “But let it be known that you, sir, are a very strange man… who has chlamydia. Everyone! Please do not engage in sexual congress with this man!”
A fist rammed the side of their face.
There’s something wrong with Jane. Road. Music. Dog. Birds aren’t mammals. Fish don’t fly. Bag. Head. Home. There’s something wrong with Jane. Walls aren’t walls. Transparent. Corpse. Masks. Sight. Spiders can’t be houses. Windows aren’t windows. There’s something wrong with Jane. Reflections. Storm. Talking. Robins. Song. Mouse. Cats aren’t cheese. Skeletons. Petrichor. Fire. There’s something wrong with Jane. Teeth. Knives, knives, knives. Flowers can’t speak. Water isn’t lava. Stone. Flavour. Time, time, time, time, time, time.
There’s something wrong with Jane.
On the empty street the dazed trio gathered their bearings. The machine was beeping frantically like an irate mother informing her children the chores weren’t completed yet. Gavin gave it another whack.
“I can’t believe we got thrown off,” Adrian exclaimed. “You’re such an idiot!”
Legion uncaringly shrugged.
“Was just trying to help the poor guy out,” they reasoned. “Wasn’t our fault he didn’t listen to us.”
“And he knocked your glasses off. That’s a whole tram full of people that got eyes on your weirdness.”
Gavin started following the frantic beeping, taking a left down a short alley, then a right and found a large, functional and busy car park. On the other side an enormous white building complex proudly blotted the sky. With its many tinted windows, exploratory signs, dull pallet, incredible aura of cleanliness, and the several adjoining structures and persistent deluge of people rambling through its doors, Gavin correctly assumed it to be a hospital. There was an undefinable characteristic inherent in such a place that instantly distinguished it from any other similarly outfitted administrative building, he thought.
The machine established the signal was originating from inside. Legion strolled up.
“Is that a tax office?” they asked.
“What?” Gavin exclaimed. “A tax office? What are you talking about? It’s a hospital!”
“Hospitals are weird. We hate hospitals.”
“All of you?”
“Enough of us.”
Adrian scratched his head.
“Why do you hate hospitals?” he asked. “Hospitals are… kind of nice places. The sick get better, pretty nurses and doctors…”
“It’s where people go to die,” Legion said coldly. “It’s a building of the dead and the dying.”
Gavin hid the device in his jacket and started walking across a car park.
“I thought you’d like that,” he said. “You’ll fit right in.”
“Gives us the creeps.”
“Yeah… welcome to my world,” Gavin snorted.
They navigated the maze of cars and barged through the front doors, carefully dodging the constant parade of the sick to get to the lobby; a wide open, immaculate area. The snaking reception desk centred the bottom floor, plastic plants and placid paintings bedecked the walls, soft couches and seats gladly received the weary. Legion winced as they looked around. The plain white walls were sickening, the dainty lights were disgusting, and the plastered smile of the pale receptionist was terrifying. Gavin approached him. His badge said ‘Hamish.’
“Hello,” said Gavin. “We’re looking for a… uh…”
He quickly realised he hadn’t formed a lie to get into the hospital and there was no real reason for them being there.
“We’re doctors,” Legion blurted.
Hamish, maintaining his smile, raised an eyebrow. Gavin twitched. He didn’t know the first thing about being a doctor, let alone how to pretend to be one.
“You’re doctors?” Hamish questioned. “Can I see your badges please?”
“Of course,” said Legion.
Gavin and Adrian turned to them expectantly. They watched in shock as Legion dug into their back pocket and rummaged around. They slapped their forehead.
“Oh, we must’ve forgotten them,” they laughed. “But we can tell you exactly where they are.”
Hamish shook his head. His hand drifted to the underside of the desk.
“Legion,” Gavin whispered out the corner of his mouth. “You know what to do.”
Before Hamish could press the red panic button a sudden thought occurred to him. It was strange, alien, but he liked it. He didn’t need to see their badges, they were doctors. It was silly to think anything else. Of course they were doctors. He didn’t have to press the red button. There was no reason to panic.
“I’ll go get your keycards,” he announced, scrolling through a box of files.
Adrian waved his hand.
“These are not the droids-”
“I’m not going to ask you again,” Gavin grumbled, collecting the cards. “Let’s go.”
They strolled down halls of doors. Every wall was painted ghostly white, every stretch of floor was immaculately clean, each door was locked shut, and the windows presented pain and suffering. Legion watched as one man bit his restraints and wrestled violently, inaudibly screaming as a group of nurses attempted to calm him down. They lowered their head.
Gavin studied the metallic device which was now blaringly loud. They were getting close. The narrow corridor took a sharp right. As soon as they turned the corner Gavin stumbled and returned the device to its normal hiding place. There wasn’t a need for it anymore. Like music drifting in the air there was a potent buzzing radiating from behind a large set of doors. The incessant vibration was an unarguable sign that they had discovered what they were looking for.
Above the door hung a beautifully blue sign that read: ‘Mental Health Suite’.
“So we found it,” said Adrian, staring at the sign confusedly.
“What exactly did we find?” Legion asked.
“That’s still up for debate,” Gavin replied. “Let’s do this.”
They opened and walked through the doors, into what initially appeared to be a children’s cafeteria; beautiful and loud-coloured paintings adorned the walls, beams of latticed sunlight streamed through the open windows, crude drawings were strewn over the floor, small plastic tables and chairs cluttered the far wall, and on the left a bright and lurid, fenced pen enclosed a toy-littered area that flaunted a circle-stained drawing pad heading a tripod. At both ends of the room automatic, sliding doors marked the otherwise congruent white-wash of the walls.
Dotted randomly were women and men, head in their hands, murmuring and whispering incoherently. Nurses graciously accompanied them. A stubby, short-haired woman in a nurse’s uniform walked to the trio standing in the doorway. She caught a quick glance at the keycards hanging from their belts.
“Doctors!” she shouted. “Are you from Central?”
Gavin looked to Legion for assistance, who unconvincingly nodded.
“Yes,” they answered. “We’re doctors… from Central.”
Unconvinced, she turned her attention to Gavin.
“What would you give to a post-op patient suffering from Haugh-Dorgs disease, provided that you have no dyzopine or lockloronine?” she asked.
Gavin struggled to keep his eyes from startlingly widening. He could study for years and not have a clue what she just asked him. He was painfully aware his mouth was open wide yet no words were coming to his rescue. At the edge of his mind there was a knock on the door. Since he didn’t know how to open it, Legion rammed it down, entered willingly, handed him a hastily scrawled note, and then exited. He studied the note and memorised the words.
“I would give them 20cc of hydrogorozine and monitor their neural… neural response for possible bio-chemical infractions.”
Impressed, the woman let down her guard.
“Checks out,” she said. “You took your time getting here, we told Central we needed good doctors almost two weeks ago.”
“Our apologies,” Legion sympathised. “We’ve been busy at Central, very, very busy. We came as soon as we could.”
“I was starting to think that you doctors at Central were beginning to get too big for your boots,” she grumbled moodily, motioning for them to follow her to the opposite side of the room. “But now that you’re here you can help us with our patient. I trust that our description was adequate?”
She opened the far door, leading them to a partitioned hallway. The walls here weren’t immaculate- they were covered in unsophisticated and fearsome illustrations evocative of the ravings of madmen. They were unsettling, Gavin decided. Behind each frilled curtain lay emaciated men and women. Some were alone, others were attended to by their family or doctors. The air was smothered under their destabilized, jumbled mutterings. The trios’ heads dipped as a mark of respect.
“Actually, we… uh…” Gavin stuttered. “We weren’t given much information.”
“Of course you weren’t,” the woman sighed. “Central’s still a mess then, isn’t it? I wondered if they could manage to get it together. Anyway, you’re here to diagnose and treat a young woman who turned up about two weeks ago, out of the blue. No identification, no name, we don’t know her age, we know nothing about her other than she’s suffering from a serious condition.”
“What condition is that?” Legion asked.
“We don’t know. That’s why you’re here. She rarely talks and when she does she talks nonsense, nothing we can make sense of anyway. We know there’s an underlying issue but because we can’t have a conversation with her we can’t figure anything out. We’ve been doing what we can to make her comfortable but…”
They followed her down a set of stairs that spread out openly to an extensive grey hall. Gavin wasn’t sure where they were anymore. The woman continued forward, leading them to a pair of doors on the far wall.
“There’s really not a lot we can do for her,” she continued eventually. “We’ve added sedatives to her medication but her body breaks it down too quickly. I’ve been a nurse for twenty years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Legion claimed lead in the conversation.
“Have you performed a CAT scan?” they asked.
Without stopping she let her confusion be known.
“A ‘CAT scan’. Is that a new thing from Central?”
“Oh. An MRI scan then?”
“Have you scanned her brain?” Legion said deliberately.
“You mean a CIS? Yes, we gave her one. But we only got her in the machine for five minutes.”
Gavin attempted to inject himself back into the conversation.
“When we all know it takes about… an hour for a CIS… machine to do its… to do what it does,” he mumbled. He received an eye roll from Legion.
“What?” exclaimed the nurse. “They aren’t teaching you right at Central. It takes two to three hours for a CIS to form properly. We’ve run other tests but they haven’t really revealed much- an increase in dopamine, fluctuating levels of serotonin, but that’s about it.”
“Why was she only in the machine for five minutes?” Legion asked.
“Because the machine broke,” she replied shortly. “There was some kind of electrical surge that fried the system. We didn’t get anything from it.”
They were in a smaller room now, possibly a repurposed janitor’s closet. The most prescient detail was a large plastic cage locked into the wall that extended to the centre. Its four walls were see-through, protected by sheets of transparent plastic, which Gavin noticed to be heavily marred. Handprints and claw marks were streaked all over the barriers. The inside of the cage secured little more than an uncomfortably thin bed and a young woman staring in the opposite direction to the trio. Not much information could be gathered from her back other than that her hair colour was light ginger, and was long and seriously tangled in a hectic mess, and that draping hospital clothes weren’t flattering for anyone. Legion noted the slenderness of her wrists and ankles as particularly worrying.
“Has she been eating?” they asked.
“Small meals,” the nurse answered. “She… she brings it back up if she doesn’t want to eat it.”
“And why is she down here?”
“Some of the staff were concerned that she might be a danger to others.”
As Gavin studied the savage markings on the plastic he considered this to be a cogent decision. Pinned on a board hung on the wall to his right were startling photographs. He plucked them from their resting place and anxiously looked them over. They were all named ‘Jane Doe- Eldritch Memorial’. Each was taken a different date. He stopped suddenly on a horrific photo showcasing Jane Doe’s face in full. Her lips were thin and cracked, her cheeks were terribly gaunt, her eyes sunk in her skull, her skin was frighteningly ashen and bruised, her teeth were cracked and filthy. She wasn’t exactly a picture of good health. Gavin went rigid as he inspected the photo closer.
“Nurse…” he said, gulping. “Would you leave us with the patient, please? There’s something we have to discuss.”
“Of course, Doctor,” she said, moving to the door. “I’ll collect all of her files for you. That button there will switch on the intercom if you’d like to talk to her and you can use your keycard on the door to get in. But… I’d be careful.”
The metal door clicked shut. As soon as she was gone Gavin handed the photo to Legion. They studied it intently.
“What is it?” they asked.
“Look at the eyes,” he said. “Look carefully at the eyes.”
They did as instructed. A few moments later they gasped in shock. Adrian, peering over Legion’s shoulder, almost shouted. Gavin sauntered to the cage. The figure inside was fixated deeply on the opposite wall. He tapped the intercom button. There was an instant bleep.
“Hello?” he said.
The figure twitched. Legion and Adrian moved to the plastic.
“Whoever you are, turn around. We know you’re not from here. You’re a long way from home.”
The woman’s head slowly creaked to the side. Strands of rebellious hair concealed most of her face. From behind the gaps the woman’s piercing, melting blue eyes shot through. They were wide and round in fear or rage, or both. She was trembling. There was something inherently wrong with her. In one word: terrifying.
“Can you understand me?” Gavin said, voice cracking.
The woman- Jane- twitched. Her eyes were too wide and unblinking. The air was unsettling.
“She definitely has traveller’s eyes,” Legion confirmed, observing the silver glint in the corners of her eyes.
“I don’t think she can understand us,” Adrian thought out loud. “She doesn’t look… right.”
Gavin examined her closely. Despite her obstinate, erratic twitching, she didn’t move at all. Her eyes were fixed keenly on him. Everything about her was unnerving, as though she could disturb the very soul with a solitary stare. Adrian was completely correct: she didn’t look right at all and gave no indication that she could comprehend them.
“There’s definitely energy coming from her,” Legion said, adjusting their position. “She’s where the signal’s coming from.”
“But who is she? Where’s she from? How did she end up here? Why isn’t she talking?”
“It’s possible she doesn’t know how to,” they offered. “Her home ‘verse might not have speech. At least, her planet anyway.”
Suddenly, Jane turned fully around. Gavin stifled a cry of morbid astonishment and backed away. Legion moved closer to the plastic for further study. They too were shocked but buried the emotion under an avalanche of duty.
She scarcely had any meat on her bones, appearing more as a skeleton than as an actual person. She was malnourished, dehydrated and wasting away. It was a good decision to place her in the cage, thought Gavin, if she was outside and a particularly strong gust of wind rolled in she might fall to pieces.
“Oh, my god,” Adrian gasped. “What happened to her?!”
“They’ve not been taking proper care of her,” Gavin fumed. “They’ve… they left her in here and just ignored her.”
Legion stared at the woman, who couldn’t have been any older than twenty, and abducted the crucial evidence.
“They’ve been taking good care of her,” they argued. “There’s not much they can do. See the tiny marks in her arms and over her body? Those are for food tubes. They’ve done what they can but if she keeps bringing up food… this is what happens.”
“But… look at her, Legion!” Gavin shouted. “That’s not healthy, that’s not exactly what you would call good care!”
Jane shuffled to the plastic barrier, pressing her nose against it. Her breath fogged it up. Her voice was meek, timid, like the whine of a beaten dog.
“Robins don’t fly south for winter,” she whispered.
Adrian cocked an eyebrow, Gavin grimaced, while Legion scratched their head. The peculiar sentence, without bearing or meaning, meandered until it eventually fizzed out.
“What is she talking about?” Legion asked.
Her eyes flicked to them.
“But they do. But they don’t. Blue is the colour of death. But it’s red.”
She paused. Her perplexing expression suddenly morphed into terror as though some monster had appeared in front of her. She placed her palms on the plastic.
“Robins can’t be fish but they don’t fly,” she said. “It’s like nothing makes sense.”
“Can you understand us?” Adrian asked, ignoring her rambling.
She retreated from the plastic, holding her head.
“Time was here,” she said worriedly. “It was right here, where did it go? It just… it went away. It was here and now it’s gone.”
Gavin compressed his lips. What she mentioned was a terrible secret regarded by the very few who knew it as a concept they wished they had never learned. This information was sacred and not a model of existence easily grappled from creation’s bewildering and arcane hold. The only way to gain this ‘perspective’ and understanding was to be told it, several times. Then several more times.
Legion glanced worriedly as Jane broke down in tears. Her sobs were like passionate retches. Adrian angrily shook his head.
“We can’ leave her like this!” he said. “This isn’t right.”
She fixed her attention on him.
“What’s going to happen is about to happen,” she stated. “It’s about to happen. The walls are see-through. There’s not enough here, not enough, not enough, not enough…not…enough.”
Thick black veins crept from the corner junction of the wall and spread outwards like ashen tributaries. Without resistance they blackened the walls and transformed the concrete to infected-looking skin. The air chilled further. An aroma of decaying meat oozed from the spreading veins.
Gavin turned to Legion in a state of panic.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Because the eyes aren’t right,” she continued. Suddenly there came a feverish cackling. “The eyes are never right. But they are. But not always. Blue means death but it doesn’t. The walls are see-through.”
Legion grabbed the photographs from the board, as well as the utterly stunned and confounded Gavin and Adrian, then swiftly exited the room. They caught their breath in the peaceful corridor.
“What… what was that?” Gavin pressed finally. He couldn’t make sense of what he had witnessed.
“We don’t know,” Legion admitted. “We should go check… with the nurse, see if there’s any more information.”
They barged past Gavin and furiously charged down the corridor. Adrian watched them leave, unsure of what he was more confused about; the girl or the dead ones.
“What is going on?!” he demanded. “This is all a bit confusing. I feel like I’m trying to learn the TV remote again.”
“There’s something very, very wrong here,” Gavin said. “I’m not sure what it is yet or why Legion’s in a mood but we’re going to figure this out. We have to. That signal was strong enough to shoot through the barrier between ‘verses. The girl… she’s important to this somehow. Either she knows more than she’s saying or we’ve got a puzzle to solve.”
Adrian leaned in close.
“She talked about time. That’s not normal.”
“None of this is normal,” Gavin pointed out.
“That’s not what I mean. She talked about time like she knew what happened- you heard her. There’s something very wrong here, you’re right about that, and there’s something very wrong with her. She couldn’t have possibly known about time. People don’t wake up in the morning, stub their toe on a table leg, pour a cup of coffee, and then stumble over a life-altering fact like that.”
Gavin pushed him away. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with this.
“As I said, we’re going to figure this out. Let’s go talk to the nurse, she said she might have more things to show us.”
As they returned to the colourful main sitting area, they passed by visiting family members; a prudish businessman constantly checking his phone, a bawling woman desperately comforting her youngest child, a doting husband watching over his sleeping wife, a ragged teenager conversing with his dazed cousin; it seemed that it didn’t matter on which path life forced you to walk, all paths converged at least intermittently on the hospital. It was a painful reminder that mental illness could inflict its determinate wounds on any member of the public.
Legion was seated at a table with the nurse across from them. They were lost in profound conversation. As they approached Gavin caught the tail end of a sentence, a string of unfamiliar words that could only make sense with a lifetime of dedicated tutoring.
“So,” said the nurse, “Doctor Plures was telling me how it went down there. What do you two think?”
“I think she’s a seriously disturbed girl,” Gavin replied coldly, taking his seat. “She clearly has a lot of problems. But the one I want to talk about is what you’re feeding her.”
“I thought this might come up. She’s being fed protein regularly every day through feeding tubes. It’s the only way we’ll get her to eat anything. As for her appearance, I know that it looks like she’s not being fed at all and honestly… we don’t have an answer for that. Some of the doctors here believe her metabolism is somehow advanced. We’ve already increased the size and frequency of the meals. We don’t want to give her too much.”
“Trust me,” Gavin grumbled, “I don’t think she can have too much. Give her more food, give her more water. She’s a human being not a hamster.”
He was considering the effect of unfamiliar, incompatible food on the system of a non-human lifeform. She was from another universe, that was obvious, so her entire biological system could be completely dissimilar to the humans here. It was a wonder any medication was working at all.
“We understand that,” the nurse explained calmly. “We’re doing the best we can with what little information we’ve gathered. But we don’t know what else we can do, that’s why we called Central, that’s why you’re here. We thought if anyone could fix her it would be… well… you.”
“You mentioned before that she was moved down there because people were worried she might be a danger,” Adrian chimed in. “Has she actually hurt anyone?”
“No, no, she hasn’t hurt anyone. But…”
She trailed off. Gavin came dangerously close to slamming the table. His patience was running out and his mistrust was rising.
“When she first arrived here,” the nurse continued, “she was erratic, unpredictable, wild. She was running her mouth, screaming nonsense and biting her arms. During her first night the other patients in the ward complained about vivid nightmares and that she was talking in her sleep about impossible things, frightening things, things you wouldn’t talk about in a public place. Then she broke the CIS machine. Then she kept getting thinner and thinner and the medication and sedatives stopped working. We’ve had to increase the dosage of the sedatives about twenty times. We’ve had to change the sedative we were giving her even more than that.”
A look of understanding passed over Legion.
“You moved her because she was scaring the other patients,” they said. “It wasn’t because she was an immediate danger, it was in case she became one.”
Shamefully the nurse nodded. She fidgeted with her hands. Disgrace was like an odour she couldn’t wash off. Gavin could clearly see she didn’t like the idea of hiding Jane away below, this wasn’t her decision. He truly felt for her.
“Has she said anything coherent at all?” he asked.
“Not really. There are little bits and pieces she’ll say that makes sense in a weird way but she doesn’t say anything you could repeat and sound sane at the same time. I’m going to level with you all: I don’t know what to do. Her body’s resilient, I can see that, but it’s like she’s eating herself, it’s like she’s melting. If she doesn’t get serious help soon… she’s not going to see the weekend.”
Gavin sighed. Jane was the signal’s source. Whatever they were now embroiled in was linked to her. They couldn’t leave until they figured this out.
“You said you were going to pull her file?” he said.
From under the table she produced large sheets of heavily occupied paper and handed them over.
“These are some pictures she drew,” the nurse explained. “Just like her conversations I can’t make much out of them. I wish I had more to give you but there’s nothing. This girl doesn’t exist in any records- no dental matches, no DNA matches, nothing. This is all you’ve got.”
Gavin pulled the sheets apart. Each one was consumed in its entirety with insincere scribbles, rudimentary diagrams of figures and scenes too poorly depicted to discern, enormous concentric circles that spiralled inwards to a singularity like black-holes, and script in unknown languages that none of the trio could read. There was more than one language in use on every piece of paper. Some of the symbols were familiar to Legion but they couldn’t figure out what they meant.
For a while they studied each sheet curiously, discussing the possible significance of what they perceived to be recurring themes. They settled on one conclusion: Jane was mad for circles.
As Gavin separated yet another sheet, possibly his fiftieth or sixtieth, his eyes fell on a striking symbol and froze. His breath was taken from him, his logic sapped through his ears. He gripped the symbol, quivering from fear. Enclosed in a perfect circle was a soft ‘L’ interjected in the middle of the pillar by a sharp line that curved lazily at both ends. Those that had viewed this particular symbol knew that its intention was to inspire fear. It achieved this effortlessly, especially when it was dangling from the belts of armed soldiers.
Without saying a word he vacated the chair, scanned the room for the nurse, and nervously approached her.
“Is there a private bathroom around here?” he asked. “I’ve got a phone call to take and I’d like some privacy.”
“Through the main set of doors, then second door on your right.”
He locked the door behind him. The bathroom was more of a grimy stall than a room; a half-broken sink on the left, a toilet on the right, murky tiled flooring below, and a sagging, swaying unshielded bulb above. One look at the rather filthy stall and he considered the rest of the hospital lucky to be clean. That wasn’t what he was here for, however. He gripped the edge of the mirror that adorned the sink, wiping the glass clean. The mirror rippled as though altering its mass and then settled.
A figure appeared behind him in the reflection. He remembered that the first time he tried this, his first instinct was to look directly behind him- and naturally found nothing.
“What is it?” Sean asked.
His hair was messy, his eyes accentuated by dark and reddening circles, he’d accrued a wealth of extra frowns on his forehead, and he sluggishly fluttered from side to side. He was exhausted, Gavin knew the signs. They all believed forcing him to stay home would keep him out of trouble and harm’s way. They were half right.
“We might have a problem.”
“Alright, I’m coming through. Is that a sink? Better not rip my trousers.”
“No, no,” Gavin insisted. “We might have a problem but it’s nothing we can’t handle. All I need is a little advice.”
Sean regretfully withdrew from the mirror’s edge.
“I’ve been relegated to advice giver then. Am I going to turn into Ygssrettfurr? No, there’s no way. I couldn’t afford a suit like that.”
“There’s… this young girl…”
Gavin explained the situation and reiterated everything Jane had spoken, specifically emphasising her knowledge of time. Sean’s expression altered dramatically from a subtle aloofness to a stone-cold anger.
“How old is she?” he asked.
“Well, she looks about eighteen or so but we both know that doesn’t mean anything.”
Sean irritably paced.
“Has she done anything else?”
“She drew Lilith’s insignia. As well as a bunch of other creepy stuff. I think we should bring her home.”
“No,” Sean replied immediately.
“Why not?” Gavin questioned. “She has knowledge of the multi-verse and Lilith, she can’t be left alone out here.”
“You’re right, she does have knowledge of the multi-verse and Lilith- knowledge that she couldn’t possibly have. I could pass up the insignia as her seeing it on a soldier but she knows about time. The way she spoke about it, if she said it like you did, sounds like she was actually there.”
Gavin gritted his teeth. Sean wasn’t seeing what he was seeing.
“She’s just a kid,” he said. “I don’t think she knows what’s happening to her.”
“As you mentioned, just because she looks eighteen doesn’t mean she is eighteen. If she remembers the fall of time she’s older than half the Nephilim… and all of the Vanguard.”
“She didn’t say she remembered it,” Gavin reasoned. “All she said was that it was here and now it isn’t. I could say that, doesn’t mean I was there for the fall. Sean, she’s just a kid, a lonely confused kid who doesn’t understand what’s happening to her.”
Sean mulled the situation over carefully for a few minutes. Gavin waited patiently for his response.
“She has traveller’s eyes,” Sean continued eventually, “she’s from another ‘verse, she’s drawn Lilith’s insignia, spoken about things she couldn’t possibly know, and one of the nurses treating her claims she’s dangerous, and you suddenly have the notion to bring her here. This screams Pantheon.”
Gavin readied the sentence he’d been holding onto.
“There was a time you would have said yes straight away,” he challenged. “A time when you actually cared about people.”
“Don’t try that with me,” Sean replied coldly. “We can’t care or save anyone if we welcome a Pantheon assassin into our home to slit our throats when we’re soundly asleep. Do more research, do an interview, have Legion read her mind, but until I’m satisfied that she’s not a danger to us, she’s not coming here. And that is not open to discussion.”
Gavin backed away. He didn’t believe Jane was Pantheon, via proxy or otherwise, but the boss’s mind was made up and there was no changing it. Ever since the space port escapade, Sean had been insufferably grumpy and rude, often dismissing missions because he suspected a Pantheon trap. Gavin was beginning to think he was losing hope.
“Alright, fine,” he said. “You can go tell Rachel- Adrian found her some coffee.”
Instantly, Sean disappeared from the mirror. Standing on the bathroom tiles behind him was a flustered Rachel.
“You found coffee?!” she shouted.
Gavin stared at the reflection, trying not to soil himself. Sean appeared in the reflection again, rubbing his side.
“There was no need for that,” he groaned.
“Where’s the coffee, Gavin?” she asked avidly. “Give it!”
“I don’t… I don’t have it, Adrian has it.”
“Then I suggest you go get it. Chop chop!”
Gavin returned to the bathroom stall with the coveted jar of coffee, inviting suspicious looks from passing hospital staff and patients, and then handed it through the mirror to a wide-eyed, gobsmacked Rachel. She snatched it from his clutch, smiling as though she’d been handed the Holy Grail.
“Actually, now that you’re here,” Sean told her, “you could help us with something. There’s this girl-”
“I don’t care.”
She skipped out of the reflection giddily. Sean, who’d been holding his breath, loudly exhaled and rubbed his brow.
“So she’s…” Gavin mumbled.
“Yeah, just a bit,” Sean said exhaustedly. “It’s to be expected. I’m definitely not envious of what she’s going through. Anyway, off you go, you’ve got a job to do.”
The mirror shimmered and Sean vanished.
In the main room Adrian and Legion examined the drawings with Jane’s nurse, Sofia Simpson, while Gavin dwelled on Sean’s words. The boss was exhausted, drained, and Gavin wasn’t sure what he could to help.
“We should talk to her again,” Legion suggested. “But not while she’s down in that… cage.”
“She gets daily walks,” Sofia explained. “Just around here. If you’d like I can go get her now?”
Legion gulped at ‘daily walks’. They were under the impression that she was living, breathing person and not a dog. It didn’t feel right.
“Sure,” they said. “Go ahead and bring her up, we’ll talk to her here.”
Sofia nodded and left to collect her patient. Adrian was the first to mention it.
“Daily walks?” he gasped. “That’s it, we have to get her out of here.”
“Sean isn’t letting us take her home,” Gavin announced. “Not until we find out for sure she’s not a Pantheon ploy. Legion, he wants you to read her mind.”
Adrian nervously twiddled his thumbs. Legion glanced behind them. Sofia was walking back to them, holding a frail girl close. Jane’s head was down, her hair messily draped across her face, looking like she was in mourning. She barely had the strength to walk, Gavin guessed, so Sofia was holding her close for more than just moral support; she was the girl’s literal walker. The trio gulped, Jane’s visible deterioration rearing its unseemly gaunt once more. Sofia perched her between Legion and Adrian, across from Gavin, and then took a seat. Gavin, not taking her eyes of the dazed girl, thought quickly.
“Nurse,” he said, “we’d like to talk to the patient alone, please. I’m sure you understand.”
She rolled her eyes and sauntered off to another patient. They were now alone with Jane. None of them could take their stare from her. It was shocking to see the human body in such a state of disrepair and problematic to distinguish what was an infliction, what was dirt, and what was essential for the hospital staff to perpetrate to determine her status. Gavin wasn’t sure where to start.
“Do you know your name?” he asked. “The hospital staff call you Jane Doe. Unless by some miracle that’s actually your name, you must have a real one. Do you know it? Can you remember it?”
She stared attentively at the table in silence. Gavin continued.
“We were looking through some of the drawings you made.” He selected the picture of Lilith’s insignia and slid it into her eye-line. “Can you tell me where you saw this? Does it mean anything to you?”
Her hand glided across the paper.
“Sustenance,” she whispered.
“You see this as sustenance?” Gavin asked for clarification. “Are you sure?”
Legion snapped to their bag and heaved it to the table.
“She’s asking for sustenance,” they claimed. “For food.”
From out of their bag they pulled a bowl, a box of cereal and a clear bottle of milk. Adrian chuckled in confusion, Gavin gestured to the bag, astonished at the reveal.
“What?” he stuttered. “Just… what?!”
“We always come prepared,” they said. “You never know when you’re going to need stuff like this. Especially when we’re always travelling. Here you are, one bowl of cereal.”
She stared at the mixture gestating in the bowl.
“Waterfalls can’t be caught with a glove,” she said.
Gavin grimaced. The more she spoke the more he was convinced she wasn’t Pantheon. There was an innocence to her, a vulnerability that the Pantheon would’ve eradicated. But he could guess Sean’s counter argument- that her innocent nature was a front devised by the Pantheon to lure her victims to an early grave.
“Are… are… do you know what you’re talking about?” he asked. “What does that mean- ‘waterfalls can’t be caught with a glove’? Is that code for something?”
Legion dug into their bag.
“She’s asking for a spoon, dumb-ass.”
“Well, I’m sorry, how was I supposed to know that? I can’t read her mind.”
They handed the spoon over, which was jerked and propelled hungrily into the bowl. She was famished and wasted little time in devouring half the bowl’s contents. As she ate, Gavin continued.
“We know you’re not from here, we know you’re a long way from home. We’re the same. We can help you, all you have to do is talk to us, tell us where you’re from and how you ended up here and we can take you home. Help us to help you. The bottom line is that we’ve got enough confusing and mysterious people in our lives to launch an extremely terrible sitcom, we don’t need another one.”
“Robins don’t fly south for the winter,” she claimed again.
He observed as she wolfed down the cereal. She was like a wild lion eagerly gobbling a gazelle. After she was finished she slammed the bowl down on the table and turned to Legion.
“The… not-living ones… sustenance.”
“Well, we do have-”
Jane snagged the bag from their clutch and emptied the contents, selecting the few items of food Legion had accumulated and proceeded to ravenously demolish them, wrappers included.
“Are they not feeding you here?” they asked.
“Snakes regurgitate their food,” she replied.
Gavin nodded slowly then shook his head.
“Wait… how do you know Legion is-are… not-living?”
“The walls are see-through.”
She leaned in, provisionally deserting her insatiable conquest.
“All of them.”
Returning to her meal, she didn’t seem in the least bit concerned by the frightened looks on the trios’ faces. It was as though she blissfully unaware of her surroundings, or was and simply didn’t care. Gavin couldn’t make sense of her words. He felt like he was hearing half the conversation.
“Do you know your name?” he repeated.
“Robin’s don’t fly south for the winter.”
“We think that means no,” Legion offered.
Suddenly she snapped to the right as though searching for something. Her hands danced in the air like she was trying to swat a fly.
“There’s something wrong with Jane,” she said absently. “There’s something wrong with Jane. And they know it.”
Gavin loudly exhaled. They weren’t getting any closer to figuring the whole thing out. He quickly checked the machine in his pocket- it was relentlessly beeping and pointing to the girl across from him. Jane had made her first logical statement of the day: there’s something wrong with Jane.
“Jane, I’m going to ask you this very carefully,” he said. “We want to help you, we really do. But you need to talk to us.”
“I think she is,” Adrian claimed. “Not in a normal way but she’s talking to us. Maybe this is how people from her ‘verse are.”
“That doesn’t explain the signal and it doesn’t explain how she knows about time or Legion.”
At the mention of time her attention turned to Gavin. Her wide eyes unsettled him.
“Time was here,” she said. “Then it was gone. It went away.”
“How do you know that?” he pressed. “Who told you that?”
“The walls are see-through.”
“And robins don’t fly south for the winter, yes I know,” he said impatiently. “Look, you have to talk to us, you have to let us know where you’re from, your name, anything! You’re not supposed to be here and I think you know that. Whatever or whoever you are, we can take you home.”
She was close to tears. Gavin felt a ping of guilt strike his chest. She’d already been through enough, he thought, he didn’t want to make it any worse. She didn’t deserve his anger.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry…”
In one fluid motion Jane shot from the table and stormed out the doors. Legion reached for her but could only catch air. Sofia came running over angrily as the trio watched Jane disappear.
“Get her back!” she screamed. “She can’t go anywhere!”
“Don’t panic,” Legion grumbled. “She’s a crazy patient who can barely walk and doesn’t have a keycard.”
There was a high pitched squeal from the PA system that stopped them in their tracks. For a few agonisingly long seconds it screeched until, faintly and barely registerable, a song permeated the white noise. Gavin recognised the riff, that he would personally describe as ‘tasty’, and by extension identified the band as being from his home ‘verse.
/Something’s getting in the way, something’s just about to break/
“That’s… Breaking Benjamin…” he gasped.
/I will try to find my place, in the diary of Jane/
The PA system horridly screeched again and then went silent. An ominous wave of danger swept arrogantly through him as though Lilith herself had walked by. Carefully he peered around.
At every table, on the edge of every bed, the incarcerated patients were banging their heads on any available surface in perfect unison. They carried a steady and constant beat. Boom…boom…boom…boom. The nurses and doctors in the room, unable to stop them all, watched in horror as they smashed their skulls against wood, metal and concrete. A few drew blood. Boom…boom…boom…boom.
“Even by our standards this is a little weird,” Legion exclaimed.
“Come on,” Gavin ordered. “We’ve got to find that girl.”
They followed her trail out the door. The hallway was abysmally empty, with little trace of where Jane may have gone. Unfortunately there were ten rooms down either side that she could’ve used to facilitate her escape. All that greeted them was sheer and vivid whiteness. Gavin checked the device. The signal was beeping but the screen failed to illuminate the exact location; the blip that tracked exactly where the signal was coming from was darting erratically as though trying to escape the device.
The lights flickered. All at once the world grew darker and the blankness of the hallway emanated a faint foreboding cry. The lights flickered again. A cold breeze crept from the shadows and clawed at exposed skin. Gavin suddenly felt extremely vulnerable as though facing an armada of the worst creatures the multi-verse could offer. The air didn’t sit right, the walls didn’t look right, the lights hesitantly puffed in and out, the floor trembled and shook, and like Gavin’s heart, the world was fluttering.
Cautiously he advanced. Each step was hesitant. His heart was close to bursting. Legion and Adrian were experiencing the same chilling ambience. The world was wrong.
They focused their senses. She was close, that much was certain. Though the air was cold and stagnant, through it vibrated the tell-tale buzzing of those in the know could recognise at any moment. As they cautiously advanced through the narrow corridor the buzzing incrementally amplified in concentration. They were getting closer.
Gavin froze as he passed by a door. The signal was weaker. Taking a step back, his eyes flicked to the door. Legion and Adrian moved into position.
The door splintered and violently swung open. He stared into a darkened, almost completely black room. A vacant flimsy bed was the main focus of the room, a small TV perched on a mobile shelf in the corner, and that’s all he could make out. It was deathly quiet. He sharpened his eyes, urgently demanding they adjust to the dark.
He peered into the blackness. The paralyzing dark cloaked a fist, or an elbow, or a foot, or a knee, that collided impeccably with the side of Gavin’s face. The floor happily embraced him.
Jane, shrouded in a dress of shadows, grinned wildly.
“Spiders can’t be easy to find,” she said.
Gavin recovered, snorting at the feral girl.
“You’re quite the… fighter…” he huffed. “I didn’t know anyone could sneak up on me.”
“The sea can’t be tamed if it’s lava.”
“I wish I knew if that was important.”
She was proudly smiling, apparently ecstatic at Gavin’s healing cheek. Then suddenly a worrying change overcame her. As though she was retreating further into her own mind she back away, flicking her fingers at the air, and curling into a ball.
“Jane,” said Legion. “Is something wrong?”
They covered their ears as she shrieked as loud as her lungs would allow. It was as though the hospital quaked from her might. Then she went silent, her eyes rolled to back of her skull, there was an explosion of blood and vomit that forcefully exited her mouth, and then she dropped to the floor and convulsed.
Running to her side, Legion swiftly examined the damage. Gavin watched in shock as frothy spew dribbled down her chin.
“What the hell is happening?!” he shouted. “Is she possessed?!”
“Gavin, be quiet,” they told him. A quick check confirmed her vital organs to be functioning.
“That’s it, I’ve had enough. Legion, read her mind!”
They continued their examination, snubbing his demands.
“We already tried!” they shouted. “Back in the cage we already tried. It didn’t work.”
Other than Jane’s excruciating gargling there was a stunned silence. Gavin addressed it.
“How did it not work? How is that possible?”
“Not everything was there, it was fractured. Like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.”
“That means half the pieces were there,” Adrian disputed. “You should still see half the picture.”
“It’s a metaphor,” Legion growled. “It’s difficult to explain. Her mind wasn’t streamlined, it didn’t work… properly.”
Gavin fumed quietly. The girl’s laboured and repulsive, stuttered breathing occupied the room. Legion tried to control her spasms.
“What’s happening to her?” Adrian asked.
“We’re not sure,” they admitted worriedly. “There’s no internal damage but the blood’s definitely coming from her stomach. Something’s leaking and we can’t figure out what.”
As they worked urgently to fix what was broken, and failed to discover the cause, Gavin stood over the convulsing girl and considered Sean’s warning. Until that point the idea had whizzed by as a fleeting spectre conjured by a paranoid mind but now the details were clearer and the mannerisms of the young girl exposed, it expanded exponentially. Jane knew extremely sensitive information regarding the inner-workings of creation, she was a ‘verse traveller, she didn’t know her name or where she came from, albeit lightly and almost playfully, she had attacked him, spoke in confusing riddles, and to top the cake of crazy, Legion couldn’t read her mind. He hated to admit it but Sean was right- the whole scenario reeked of Lilith.
The girl went limp. Legion shook her.
“Is she dead?” Gavin asked apprehensively.
They looked her over anxiously, assembling as much data as possible. Her body wasn’t responding appropriately to the hidden issues; her lungs were reducing air production, her heart was beating slower, her brain’s systems were flaring as though in REM. By all accounts she was dying but Legion couldn’t ascertain the exact reason why.
As they scrutinized her body’s capacity for cheating death, Jane shot upright and went rigid, scaring the trio half to death. Thankfully, Legion was already fully there.
With her petrifying revival came a look of strenuous and unsullied fear.
“The red coats are coming!” she shouted. “The red coats are coming! Blood… red… coats… the red coats are here.”
She went limp again and dropped languidly. Legion retained enough sense to check her. They double and triple checked every organ and every inch of her nervous system. They sat back.
“She’s fine,” they said in shock. “She’s… absolutely fine.”
Gavin turned to the doorway, which was no longer empty. He coughed to gain the others’ attention as Sofia entered the scene. As soon as her eyes fell on Jane’s form, which was covered in blood and puke, and surrounded by three strange men, she yelled for help.
“What is this?!” she screeched. “What have you done?!”
“Legion, shut her down.”
“Which one?” they asked.
“The annoying one with all the questions,” he replied coldly.
The screaming abruptly ceased, shadowed inevitably by a resounding and satisfying thud. Surprisingly, Sofia started to snore. Gavin hadn’t clocked her as a snorer.
Legion hastily cleaned the vomit and blood, then picked Jane up and moved her to bed, tucking her in snuggly while Adrian switched the light on. This procured a derisive squint from Gavin.
“We’re putting someone to bed and you turn the light on?”
“Hell, I doubt she’s waking up after that fiasco.”
Gavin turned to Legion.
“What in Ogro’s blue balls is happening here?” he asked.
They gently shifted her hair from her face. There was a compassionate nature about Legion that often went unnoticed beneath the many, many layers of befuddling and intertwined personalities. Gavin considered them a grab-bag of personality disorders; one moment they could be considerate, the next blood-thirsty, then they’d be dancing in a hoe-down until they ultimately devolved to talking passionately about the state of the bucket trade.
“We have no idea,” they said. “Not a clue. We can’t read her mind, we don’t know where she’s from or what her real name is, all we know is that she’s very damaged and has a little… pizzazz.”
“What did she mean when she said ‘the red coats are coming’?” Adrian questioned.
“We don’t know. Are you paying attention at all?”
“I think I know what she was talking about,” Gavin declared. “Either she’s telling us that the British are invading or the Pantheon are here.”
Mechanically, energy barriers were established in panicked alarm and fingers sought triggers.
“How could she know that?” Legion said.
“The walls are see-through,” he replied, shrugging. “If that’s the case I want one of you at the main entrance and the other at the back door. Scan everyone. If you think someone’s suspicious don’t worry about variable-spread, just do what you have to do. We are now under attack. Act appropriately.”
Adrian shuffled timidly. Legion awkwardly tried to smile.
“Uh… since when did you start giving orders?” they said as politely as possible. “You’ve never given us orders, not like that.”
Gavin’s lips pursed. He hadn’t been the same after the events of the space port. Only Sean and Rachel knew to what extent the battle had impaired him and even then most of his true feelings were hidden. Combine that with his newly inaugurated leadership, the stress was starting to corrode him.
He didn’t acknowledge the question.
“Stay in touch,” he said, handing Adrian a wireless headphone. “Let me know what you see.”
“Why don’t we get one?” Legion whined.
“I’ll stay with the girl and make sure she’s okay. You both know what you’re looking out for. Don’t be stupid and stay safe.”
Five minutes later Gavin was alone with Jane. Her delicate, sapped frame justly troubled him. If he didn’t know any better he’d guess she wasn’t strong enough to stand. It was a miracle she could speak, an even more wondrous one that she got the drop on him. Not a single detail about her made sense.
“Gavin?” said Adrian in his ear.
“I’ve got nothing at the back entrance. Nobody suspicious.”
He sighed. His previous guess that Jane’s true identity was connected with the Pantheon was slowly proving to be incorrect. Admittedly, he couldn’t be positive that the Pantheon or any of their millions of cronies were on their way, but the fear she presented in her outburst would be hard to define as from another source. But they loved fire, there was no reason to extinguish hers. The chaos she could reap with the back of her hand outweighed the manpower required to stop it, from the Pantheon’s perspective.
‘Gavin, there’s nothing at the front,’ said many voices in his head. ‘We think you got it wrong.’
He almost vomited. Having another mind skirt hazardously close to the outer wall of one’s own was like having a stranger come up to you in the middle of the street and kiss you on the lips. Sure, some might like it, appreciate it even, but it would be considered somewhat intrusive and deftly primitive. The Nephilim retained the capacity to engage in telepathy but seldom employed it, aware of the effect it could take on lower-lifeforms. Legion didn’t bat an eyelid at the thought.
‘Oh, we didn’t mean to intrude. Just letting you know how we’re getting on. By the way, are you ever going to tell us what happened between you and that Vanguard? He was pretty.’
‘Legion, get out of my head.’
The curtains rustled. Gavin, acting on instinct and knowing there was an alien presence in the room, ducked, twisted, and pointed his gun directly at the window. He aimed down the sights, ready to take the shot.
Loudly panting, he got back to his feet, asking his heart to calm down. The girl had made him jumpy. He returned the gun to its holster.
“You scared the… what the hell is wrong with you?!” he said.
Standing nonchalantly by the open window, Ygssrettfurr studied the room. As always he was impeccably dressed and wore a winning grin. He nodded casually at Gavin.
“There’s an assassin climbing up the wall,” he stated with infinite calm.
“What?! An assassin… for the girl? Why?”
“Presumably to kill her.”
He glided effortlessly to Jane’s beside and hovered over her face. Gavin thought he was looking for something.
“Who is she?” he asked. “If anyone knows, it’s you.”
Ygssrettfurr irritably tapped his cane.
“Someone important,” he replied.
“Care to explain?” he pressed. Ygssrettfurr offered him a derogatory smirk. “Of course not.”
The old man wandered to the window.
“You keep her safe, no matter what,” he said. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Sending an assassin isn’t really Pantheon-y. Why don’t they just roll this place over with a tank or bomb it? An assassin seems like a lot of work for one death.”
Ygssrettfurr twirled his cane. The old man hadn’t aged a second since Gavin first met him about eight or nine months ago. His constant presence in the team’s lives was a harrowing experience.
“You know, you’re not like Sean.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you are but you’re not. It seems that you’re trying to emulate his leadership, which is fine, there are plenty of positive points to gain, courage, hope, inspiration, intelligence, but you’re not taking those ones. You’ve emulated his grumpiness, his innate coldness, instead of focusing on his willingness to sacrifice his life for any of you.”
He lowered his head shamefully. Ygssrettfurr smile emanated a dim smugness.
“I’m not Sean,” Gavin said. “But I can still deal with this assassin, I can still help this girl.”
“That’s the main difference between the two of you,” claimed Ygssrettfurr. “If I told Sean there was an assassin climbing up the wall, there would no longer be an assassin climbing up the wall.”
He moved to the door to abandon Gavin wallowing in a pit of self-pity.
“Where are you going?”
“Oh, I’ve got many a devious deed to attend to. Enjoy your assassin.”
The old man intangibly crossed the closed door, hopefully leaving to indulge in mysterious antics that didn’t involve the team.
Gavin checked the girl again. Whoever she was, she was important- incredibly important. If Ygssrettfurr was taking an active interest in her, even going so far as to directly assist in her protection, then he was inclined to believe she was of prominence in creation. Ygssrettfurr didn’t come to save just anyone- there was a reason, unbeknownst to him, that the Pantheon were compelled to launch an assassin at her.
Right on cue, the window opened and through it crawled a red-robed, hooded masculine figure. Gavin thought it looked remarkably similar to the description of ninjas in his home ‘verse. As the assassin observed his surroundings and got his bearings, a well-aimed harpoon pierced his shoulder. He was professionally trained however, and managed to morph a scream of pain into a dissatisfied grunt. With a hardy yank the assassin removed the harpoon, summoning blood splatter to pepper the white wall and floor, and then launched it back across its initial trajectory. Gavin dodged it effortlessly.
“What the hell do you want?” he asked.
The assassin bestially hissed. As Gavin raised his gun to once again fire, the assassin swiftly repositioned with serpentine motions and sank a concealed blade into his side. He yelled, bringing the butt of the gun down hard and connecting with the assassin’s skull.
Before he knew it, they were wrestling on the floor, the gun was out of reach under the bed, and the blood-thirsty assassin was pummelling him into submission. A shockwave of energy barrelled outwards, knocking his assailant across the room. He readied himself for another attack.
‘Any particular reason your brain just went into panic mode?’
‘Legion, there’s an assassin in the room. Grab Adrian and come back!’
‘A Pantheon assassin? This has been a very strange day. We’ll be putting this in our diary.’
‘You have a- not important! Get back here!’
He launched a flurry of energy projectiles, overwhelming the assassin, then continued with a void-bubble, devoid of oxygen, to suffocate him. For a few seconds the bubble had him stuck, choking for air, but with a strenuous explosion of energy the bubble dissipated. Gavin went on the defensive as a volley of blurry punches laid into him. He deflected, riposted, and dodged, waiting for his chance to launch a counter-attack. His foot hit the wall.
He grunted as the assassin knocked his defences aside, grabbed his head, and cracked it off the wall. He threw a quick jab to the ribcage, which was grappled and twisted, he launched a kick which was easily brushed aside, he engaged a head-butt that was met with a metal clang.
With his arms kept still by the assassin there was no route of attack or defence. He screamed as the assassin’s grip ignited his sleeves, kindling bursts of fire that seared and scorched his skin. He dropped to his knees as the flesh continued to burn and melt, exposing scorched muscles and tissue, and roared from unbearable torment. His skin was peeling off and dripping, the assassin’s concealed face smiled, the inhuman screams shook the walls.
Gavin’s head was flung back, every ounce of energy dedicated to lessening the flourishing agony. The assassin had him on the ropes. He debated diverting some energy to mount an attack but each time he did the boiling pain would surge. His arms were in bits, his energy pool was draining, tears were biting at his eyelids, his teeth were clenched, his heart thumping, his lungs puffing, his nostrils disgusted by the smell of burning flesh and his body was trembling.
As it seemed the assassin had the upper-hand and looked to deliver the coup de grace, there was a flash of blue and an inimitable buzzing. The assassin was knocked backwards and skidded across the floor. Gavin immediately focused his attention to rebuilding his burning arms, redirecting all of his energy to exigent healing, while Legion and Adrian addressed the assassin.
“How do you like your chances?” Legion taunted.
The red figure gradually and shakily rose to his feet and hissed.
“We’re guessing you’re not human- that’s fine. We should say something witty before we finish him off.”
“Like what?” asked Adrian.
“Not sure. Hey, say something stupid so we can turn the phrase and look cool.”
The assassin lunged forward. Instinctively Legion blasted a tunnelled wave of energy, hurling the assassin off his feet and crashing through the window with an elongated and potent arc. He coasted through the air, passing over throngs of astonished people, then plunged through the roof of a house, its two upper floors, and landed explosively in a kitchen sink that mockingly squirted a stream of water in his face.
Back in the hospital Gavin’s arms were painfully mending. He was curled up on the floor, rolling from the tender aching. Adrian and Legion peered out the smashed window and traced the wind-trail left by the plummeting assassin.
“He didn’t say anything stupid,” Legion lamented. “We were hoping to sound cool.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever sound cool.”
“And we don’t think you’ll ever figure out how to work a microwave.”
Gavin groaned, returning their attention to the weakened man bowed up in the foetal position. They helped him up and Legion examined the damage.
“You’ll be fine,” they said, poking the recovering skin much to Gavin’s chagrin. “Although that must’ve been painful. He burned through the skin. Look at this, Adrian, you can actually see where the wound’s been cauterized and-”
Gavin wrestled his arm back.
“That’s enough,” he mumbled.
Shrill piercing scrambled his brain. The languid glimmer of pain tawdrily haunted him. He grimaced as the lights flickered again. The Pantheon’s assassin was a hardened professional- that was blatantly obvious. Despite being flung out a window he’d be back. The girl was no longer safe and viable options for her continued security were precariously deficient. Gavin didn’t have any other choice, he thought, she’d have to be taken home.
He moved to the bed. His heart skipped.
“Where’s the girl?”
The bed was empty. Legion pointed to the corner of the room. The lights flickered again.
In that corner, no bead of light ventured. From that corner leached a demonic snarling. In that corner twitched and twisted a figure. From that corner came a blossoming, repugnantly crooked smile. Gavin felt like he was looking into the heart of a collapsing sun.
Jane jerked. She giggled. They couldn’t see it but she could. She let the river catch her by the ankles and drag her downstream. She closed her eyes and relished the water as it licked and splashed. The wind brushed through her hair. The sun caressed her. She was travelling in perpetual motion, caught in the tide and cherishing the journey.
Gavin apprehensively approached her.
“Jane? Are you okay?”
“Doors aren’t really doors. They’re windows, maybe. But they’re not.”
She chortled twistedly. The lights faded out completely for a few moments, then flashed back on. In the momentary darkness Gavin imagined all manners of horrid creatures roaming through the shadows. When the lights clicked on again Jane was standing next to the mirror, staring deeply into her reflection. Adrian jumped. Legion, who by all accounts were incapable of presenting much fear since it was uncommon for their entirety to be afraid all at once, experienced a creeping and incontestable dread at the sight of her quivering form clutching the mirror’s edge. She was enraptured by her own appearance, running her fingers across her pronounced and bony cheeks.
“These doors don’t have handles,” she said. “Does that mean it’s still a door?”
“Jane, I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gavin lied. His main concern was moving her away from the mirror.
“Is a broken clock still a clock?”
“That’s… actually quite a good question. Why don’t you come over here and we can talk about it?”
“Doors aren’t doors,” she repeated. “They’re gateways for the instantaneous depositing of matter between detached but interweaved sections of an endless, encompassing whole that bypass the quantum state of energy to matter influxes.”
The confounding statement escorted a confused silence.
“Legion?” Gavin whispered uneasily.
“That… sounds about right.”
As the lights continued to flutter and routinely black out, Jane stroked the mirror. She was mesmerised by her reflection as though she’d never seen it before. Gavin passed the bottom of the bed, fully aware that adrenaline was flooding his body in response to a new level of fear. Jane made him tense for a comprehensive assortment of reasons.
“Jane, why don’t you come over here? We can talk.”
With one hand on the edge of the mirror, she glanced at him over her shoulder.
“A bloodhound can’t track very well. Footsteps. Fresh kills. Scent.”
As Gavin reached his arm out to grab her, she leapt into the mirror. At first it looked as though to shatter, bending unsteadily under the pressure, but then it slackened and mutated and into its iridescent body swallowed the girl. Like a phantom absconding through a dense mist she disappeared.
The trio stood in silence. Legion were busy arguing among themselves as to Jane’s true nature and her mysterious, cryptographic words. Adrian rushed to the mirror while Gavin rescinded the offered hand.
“How did she do that?” Adrian asked in shock.
Travelling between ‘verses was a taught talent, not a learned one. The concept had been brought up before by Sean- that in a multi-verse that preserves every possible and impossible variable, at some point someone was going to discover how to utilise the gateways unsanctioned. The concept was dismissed by the Nephilim who explained that the gateways weren’t involved with the Nexus’s variable dispersal. In other words, the gateways were a foreign concept to creation and were thusly a moot point for the Nexus. If the variable didn’t exist at the beginning, it wouldn’t exist at any point afterwards.
“She’s been taught by someone,” Legion guessed. “It’s the only explanation. Maybe the Nephilim, maybe the Pantheon, who knows?”
“We would know if the Nephilim taught her,” Adrian argued. “And why would the Pantheon try to kill one of their own?”
“Maybe she didn’t want to be with them anymore, maybe she knows something she shouldn’t. If she’s a loose end or a wildcard it would explain why they want rid of her.”
Legion moved to the mirror and drifted their hands across it. A vivacious and jubilant energy spilled forth. They gasped.
“She’s left a trail,” they said. “A big one. If we had to compare it to something we’d say she’s given us landing lights. Or… she’s holding up a giant neon sign that says ‘I’m right here, are you blind?’”
“So we can follow her?” asked Gavin.
“It’s almost like she wants us to follow.”
“If she was Pantheon she wouldn’t do that,” said Adrian.
“Unless it’s a trap.”
“She could’ve killed us at any point,” he argued. “She had the opportunity, why bother with the act? Plus, she didn’t know we were coming for certain, we weren’t even sure we were coming here for certain. None of this makes any sense.”
Gavin’s thoughts ran wild. Adrian was right, he thought, none of this made a lick of sense. The Pantheon weren’t known for sending assassins, they were known for burning through anything standing in their way. The knowledge the girl held was incredibly valuable and secretive and wouldn’t have been stumbled upon by accident. He wasn’t sure who was responsible for the ordeal but whoever it may be, they were toying perilously with the Creator’s chosen. It was fully conceivable that neither the Pantheon nor the Nephilim were responsible for the girl, perhaps a resourceful third party were her progenitors.
“No more questions,” he commanded. “We’ve got more than enough of those so let’s focus on finding answers. We go through, we follow her, we play the game.”
“She could be leading us anywhere,” Legion theorised. “We could walk through to an ambush.”
“Then we’ll have an ambush to deal with. Weapons ready.”
As Adrian and Legion opened their mouths to argue some more, Gavin charged at the mirror headfirst and allowed it the gate to envelop him. The world instantly faded away as though melting, there was a channel of kaleidoscopic, gaudy hues and electric glows, and then a new world around him progressively moulded as though being painted into existence while he watched.
First he noticed the outline of a bed, then the dim neon lights overhead, which were followed by a TV resting on an unsteady ledge, and then the white floors and bare white walls popped up. He looked around to endorse his suspicion. Indeed, he realised, the room was the same.
Legion and Adrian came through the mirror behind him and spread out to investigate the room. Silently they assured where they were treading.
“Looks the same,” Legion claimed, running their hand across the wall. “The same but not the same.”
Adrian checked the bed, pulling the thin sheets from their slumber.
“The girl’s not here,” he said.
“We can see that. Gavin, do you have a trace?”
He corroborated with the device. To his dismay it bleeped and flashed aimlessly and speciously- the glowing blot that signified the origin of the signal was frantically darting and randomly vanishing altogether as though the device was adamantly declining to locate the source.
“We’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way,” he said. “Keep your eyes and ears and… minds open.”
Adrian seemed more than happy to abandon the use of technology. They bundled through the door and out into the narrow hallway. To their left was the mental health suite, the right offered nothing but empty white blandness and pointless doors. As they figured out which way to go, Legion shivered.
“Something’s not right,” they claimed. “Something’s very wrong. We can’t tell what it is…”
Gavin relaxed his focus and absorbed the torrential ebb of the universe. Being a ‘verse traveller had its perks- it came with a heightened awareness, an understanding that dwarfed the simple nature of a singular and constricting ‘verse. He wished this didn’t apply to him- a single ‘verse, a single planet, no mystifying or enigmatic beings whose agendas remained hidden to those it concerned. Legion assumed correctly; there was something amiss. He had two guesses.
“Could be the girl,” he said. “Or the Pantheon.”
“We think it’s both,” said Legion.
Adrian scratched his head.
“I don’t know what you mean. How is something wrong?”
“This ‘verse doesn’t feel right,” Gavin explained. “The Pantheon might be purposefully messing around with the foundations or… the girl’s doing something she shouldn’t.”
“We already said we think it’s both. Look at the lights.”
He didn’t need to. The shadows were dancing, the lights were teetering on the brink of death. The girl could be accountable for the doddering lights and the Pantheon accountable for the general quality of discomposure.
Bursting through the doors to the suite, Sofia halted abruptly upon noticing the three strange men in the hallway. She judged each one questionably.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Legion, I’m going to be honest… I can’t be bothered anymore.”
The nurse snorted. These three men unnerved her but she wasn’t going to let that show. They were out of place and she knew it. Once she determined their reasons for being here, she’d…
Do nothing, she realised. These men weren’t doing any harm. They were just standing there and she was being rude, calling them out, throwing a line of questioning that didn’t deserve to be thrown. She politely smiled at the three and then returned to her work in the suite, no longer concerning herself with strange thoughts regarding them. Gavin eased up.
“Nice going,” he told Legion. “See if you can get a location on the girl.”
“How would we do that?”
“Scan the building, read people’s minds, establish if anyone’s seen her. You did say you couldn’t read her mind. So look for a mind you can’t read.”
Legion went silent for a few moments. Through the entire building their mental tendrils reached, scanning every hallway, every room, gleaning drifting thoughts and memories, drinking pools of information and knowledge. As they did, one particular tendril retreated rapidly and violently, thrashing and whipping all the way back home. It cowered like a beaten dog in the corner, whining and bleating, refusing to utter anything coherent. Legion called all the tendrils back.
“We… may have found something,” they said uneasily. “But we’re not sure what, all we know is where.”
“It’s a start,” said Gavin hopefully. “We have a location so let’s go.”
“Uh… yes. But- we mean to say, it doesn’t…”
Gavin sighed again.
“What is it?” he demanded to know peevishly.
“We have no idea,” they said. “That’s not supposed to happen. We’re supposed to know everything… but it’s… confusing.”
“But we have a location, we have a direction. Lead the way.”
Apprehensively, Legion obliged and led them through the mental health suite. Everything was exactly as it had been; the position of each table, the nurses and doctors on schedule, the colour of the curtains, the curve of the colourful drawings, the patients and their respective beds were the same, right down to the scuff marks on the floor.
These kinds of ‘verses freaked Gavin out. At first glance it was nigh-impossible to tell what was different, what variable was being employed by the Nexus to separate it from the last. It could be as small as what pellet of food a pet canary in Australia chose to eat that morning or as large as the Pope being a homosexual grandmother with hands for feet. At least with vastly disparate universes he knew that he was ignorant.
They diligently trailed Legion, heads down, as they navigated the suite. Legion headed for the door. Other than the click of their boots on the linoleum, there was an unnatural and disconcerting silence.
Gavin halted. He gulped. The lights flickered.
His trouser leg was caught. He looked to the ensnarement. An elderly, withered, balding man was grasping the fabric tightly. His eyes gawped absently as though the body was a shell and the mind was long gone. Gavin’s heart ominously dropped.
He met the old man’s vacant glare. The man licked his lips.
“Robins don’t fly south for the winter,” he croaked.
Gently removing the man’s hand from his trouser leg, Gavin backed away. The old man’s eyes never left his. They were locked. Gavin gulped.
“Robins don’t… fly south for the winter,” the old man repeated.
“Robins don’t fly south for the winter,” said one of the other patients.
Gavin found the door handle behind him. He was panting. Legion and Adrian were watching the unfolding scene with slack jaws.
Every patient, every doctor, every nurse, trained and fixed their eyes on the trio. They were engrossed, wide-eyed, spellbound, and breathed rhythmically in synch.
They stood. They waited. They didn’t blink. They just stood. They breathed.
Then, as a deified and gossamer chant, they spoke.
“Voids and dust, fall and rust… voids and dust, fall and rust… voids and dust, fall and rust…”
Their heads communally cocked to the side. They didn’t blink. They just stood. They breathed.
Gavin pushed the door open. He fell into the corridor. There was definitive buzzing. His mind was clouded. His throat was dry. His eyes were watering. He coughed.
The door closed behind him. Adrian helped him up, screaming a sentence he couldn’t hear. His ears were ringing. They were running down a hallway. The walls were melting and bending.
He was propped up against a wall with his legs bent and his head between them. Adrian waited fretfully for Legion’s diagnosis.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked finally.
Gavin dazedly swayed from side to side. Legion confirmed their suspicion.
“Echo-acoustic anomaly,” they explained. “For some reason it was targeted at him. Before you ask, an echo-acoustic anomaly is a form of sonic assault- using sound as an attack.”
Adrian nodded, though blatantly didn’t understand.
“Why was he targeted?”
“For all intents and purposes, he’s our leader. If someone was weighing up which one of us would be the most valuable target, he’d be the heaviest. Personally, we find it quite insulting. Whoever did this is suggesting we’re incapable of functioning without him. We mean, really?! Him?!”
Gavin gargled and slipped down the wall. Adrian moved to help him up. Legion’s hand shot out and grabbed him.
“What is it?”
They gestured cautiously to the bottom of the hallway, where at the double doors, bolstered by the wall, was a motionless figure. In their haste they’d missed it. The most worrying detail about this was that the figure was not only clad in red armour and bearing Lilith’s insignia, he was covered in wet blood. Through the small square windows on each door streamed no light. A thick and profuse layer of viscera blocked the passage of light.
Immediately Adrian retrieved the concealed knife from his sock and brandished it defensively. Legion moved to the body.
“This confirms Pantheon presence,” they said, scrutinising the man. “But we’re not in a dead-verse, the Ogrohad is alive. They must be starting to take control.”
“That’s all very well and good,” Adrian whispered, keeping his distance. “But what about his death? How’d he die?”
They pushed the head back, which would’ve fallen completely off if not for the thin sliver of flesh connecting it to the neck. The prevalent gory details pompously presented themselves.
“Well… it’s hard to tell but we’d say it was his near-decapitation that made him ‘not-living’,” they said sarcastically. “There are several more lacerations and… strange marks all over the body. There’s a lot of blood missing, unless that’s his on the windows giving us a little privacy. The markings are inconsistent, they weren’t made with- well- anything. There’s no cut marks, no bruising, whatever did this to him, it did it without help, without touching him.”
A shadow passed over Adrian.
“You mean, like someone used telekinesis?”
“Yes, we suppose we do. It’s the only explanation.”
They turned to the doors and prepared to open them. Adrian swatted their hands down and formed a blockade.
“We’re not going in there,” he said adamantly.
“Is that so? Why?”
“Gavin’s out, that guy’s head is half-hanging off and we don’t know what caused it, and there’s blood all over the windows.”
Legion tossed Adrian’s observations around. There was indeed a surplus of blood and a soldier apparently killed by powers surpassing human limits.
“We’re not stopping because Gavin’s out. As for the soldier, his death is quite interesting. Why is he dead? What killed him?”
Adrian’s vision was dragged to the bloodied windows.
“I think if we open these doors we’ll find out.”
“Exactly. Grab Gavin, we’ll carry him.”
With a blubbering, drooling Gavin hanging between them, they nervously approached the doors. What little could be seen through the windows proposed exceedingly more horrific images and an unwanted answer to an unspoken question. Legion pushed the door. It creaked open. They heaved Gavin through.
Adrian gagged, Legion averted their gaze. The lights shied from the hallway, repulsed by the scene traipsed through it. The white walls and floors were no longer untarnished. Like a tunnel of horror and revulsion, as though plucked from the deepest fears of the criminally insane, the corridor reached out before them. Swathes of blood ran like rivers, crawling up the walls, coating the ceiling, and drenched the floor in a shallow pool that crept up the side of Legion’s boots. The bleached walls were scarcely visible. Around the flickering lights and wall junctions it spread like paint and from the ceiling it dripped like a faucet. Bloody handprints were printed on the walls. Strewn sloppily were detached body parts; hands, legs, feet, arms, torsos with protruding and torn ribcages, decapitated heads, discarded and crushed lungs, squashed hearts, femurs, brain matter, random muscles, red tongues, shattered teeth, sloshed together with fizzing bile, indistinguishable wedges of skin, severed intestines and bowels, and frumps of coagulated hair. It was a trough of entrails and innards, a gutter for exposed viscera. Through the swilling, shallow pool were shimmering footsteps.
In the midst of the grotesque spectacle were scattered remnants of Lilith’s insignia and evidence of Pantheon influence. They were soldiers of the Red Regime.
At the end of the hallway, saturated from head to toe in blood and beaming amiably, was a motionless Jane. She stared down the horrifying passage, barely breathing and unblinking. She twitched, then rubbed her arms as though washing the blood away. Lumps of flesh and brittle bone were lodged in her chaotic mop. She didn’t seem to notice- or care.
Legion clasped their lips shut. There were no words.
They didn’t wait for Adrian to catch his rampant sense. Apprehensively they stepped forward, never letting their vision drop from Jane, who seemed too occupied with relieving the bloodied layer varnishing her skin to notice them. The lights were on the fritz once more.
Suddenly a body flew through the closest door and collided explosively with the opposing wall. Torrents of blood and bone were hurled from the detonation, uniting harmoniously with the excess of slaughter. Adrian stifled a shocked yelp.
Their boots splashed in the blood pool. Inducing tunnel vision neither man allowed their view of Jane to slip- partly because they weren’t sure what she was likely to do, mainly because they didn’t want to peer too long at their immediate surroundings. They were afraid that if they did, they might not keep walking.
Apprehension and fear guided their every step.
Jane’s hand rose. Her red palm cautioned movement. She dreamily swayed.
“They didn’t stand a chance,” she said wispily. “Lions eat meat. But not always.”
Daintily she stepped into the bloodbath. As though by some magnetic or gravitation pull, droplets of blood, freed from the larger pool, gravitated to her from the ceiling, floor, and walls like spindly fingers. Like a protective barricade the shimmering blood halted a few inches from her skin and hovered.
“Can you hear the music?” she said. “It’s in the air.”
She rocked gently on her heels to an inaudible beat, the suspended blood swayed with her.
“Itsy bitsy raindrop fell down the waterfall, then came the rainbow and froze the noises out…” She jolted suddenly, her eyes falling sharply on the trembling forms at the other end of the hallway. “Bloodhounds will have to track the footsteps. Otherwise, what’s the point? If there are no walls, there’s more to see.”
Adrian and Legion watched her open a door and vanish through the portal. The clinging blood languidly dropped without her presence.
“Does she want us to follow?” Adrian asked.
“We think so. We’re not sure it’s the best idea.”
Frizzy red hair appeared in the doorway.
“The human brain is a brilliantly complicated thing- a lifetime to build, two seconds to squish.”
She vanished again. Adrian mumbled incoherently, Legion raised an eyebrow.
“We have a sudden desire to follow her.”
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing.”
They dragged Gavin to the doorway, drowning out the splashes of their boots in the morbid puddle, purposefully reinforcing their gaze so as not to catch a glimpse of what was around them. A few drops of blood patted Legion’s shoulder.
They were in a similar room as before; a flimsy looking bed, a TV, a few wooden stools, a window, and a mirror. Jane stood patiently by the latter. She poked her reflection.
“When there are no walls,” she said, “everything is touchable, everything is known.”
Legion and Adrian firmly endorsed her operation of the gateway and observed her instant transportation to another ‘verse with little remorse or surprise. They weren’t sure how they felt about the girl yet. Adrian was fascinated but horrified and was finding it difficult to divide his intrigue from his disgust. Legion’s mind was surprisingly quiet. They weren’t arguing or fighting- everyone was stunned so acutely that they could offer little in the way of conversation or explanation.
“So we’re definitely following her?”
“We don’t think we have a choice,” Legion mumbled.
“Come on,” Adrian chuckled nervously, “say a joke. You always have jokes, tell me this doesn’t bother you.”
Legion hauled Gavin to the mirror and detected the girl’s trace.
“We can follow her,” they said. “We know where she’s going.”
“Legion… tell me a joke,” Adrian demanded anxiously. They could see his resolve withering and from the slurring glint of his eyes they deduced he was in a state of total shock. They’d seen horrors before but not quite like this. On a scale from a gunshot wound to the end of the world, this was ‘verse-shattering.
“Focus,” they told him. “We find the girl, we figure this out. No more talking.”
He opened his mouth to argue then abruptly closed it. There was no point in arguing. There were no words. If Legion was taking this seriously, he thought, the situation demanded a more mature and solemn attitude.
They hovered at the mirror, their reflections wearing derisive sneers and disappointed scowls. Whatever waited on the other side was sure to be a visage of death and horror of the most awful constitution. The girl was a significant aberration, as confusing as she was deadly. Undeniably her only apparent victims were Pantheon soldiers and neither of them could contend in resistance to their deaths but that didn’t mean she wasn’t considering other prospects of deleterious hedonism. They might be next on the list.
Legion stepped through.
They were confounded to look upon a basic wooden room with grey walls, beams across the ceiling, an unlit fireplace filled with logs, open windows that invited streams of beaming sunlight and a breathlessly beautiful view of a luscious garden through their frames, but most importantly, what took their attention clearly and without contest, was the pack of kittens and cats of every variety roaming happily on the pine-wood floor. They pranced, played and meowed tenderly and jocundly. Legion suppressed the desire to pet them.
Gavin, hanging on to Legion’s shoulder, groggily pointed to them and mumbled. Adrian came through a second later and similarly expressed mild confusion.
“Cats,” he said. “Cats… why did the girl bring us here? And where is she?”
“Let’s stop asking questions,” Legion replied. “Gavin was right, we need more answers than questions.”
None of the felines were concerned with their sudden materialisation, seeming more concerned with whatever goes on in a cat’s head. It is known that somewhere in the boundaries of the multi-verse there is a considerably valuable variable, in which the thoughts of cats are known to all. This was not that universe and this variable wasn’t employed.
Legion glanced around upon hearing a strange, unidentified scratching sound. Initially they believed it to be one of the cats but the source wasn’t within the furry pack. As they searched for the peculiar noise, a figure scuttled across the ceiling, darting with arachnid-like aptitude, and then skulked leisurely down the wall. At the bevelled groove it placed its hands on the floor and kicked off, flipping forward and onto its feet. It stretched. Adrian watched the entire spine-chilling scene unfold, the hand of fear clasping his jaw shut. He nudged Legion.
“Cats!” she exclaimed happily.
Like a child seeing playful kittens for the first time she pointed excitedly, grinning with ebullient joy. She grabbed a small, cute grey cat and toyed with it, cooing inanely. It purred pleasurably. Adrian noted that somehow the cover of blood layering her skin was dry. She danced through the pack and approached the trio.
“Snakes don’t close their eyes when they sleep,” she said, tapping Gavin on the forehead.
With a shudder and a cough he energetically jolted awake. Taking stock of his new surroundings, he took one look at Jane and retreated, an accusing finger extended.
“You… you…” he mumbled. “I… saw… the blood!”
He stumbled back, tripping over his own feet, then scurried to put as much distance as possible between him and Jane.
“Blindness can be cured, for a fee,” she said, shrugging. “No, it can’t. I mean to say… get it together. There’s a lot more to see.”
“Who… are you?!” he shouted. “What are you?!”
“For the time being, I’m a girl with a cat. Variables are unreliable.”
“You’re making more sense now. Tell me who you are!”
Jane stroked the cat sleeping peacefully in her arms, resting its head in her palm. It seemed content. She pointed to the mirror.
“Reflections and refractions,” she said. “Raindrops and icicles.”
The cats meowed. Gavin was still recovering, still making sense of the world. He had indeed seen the horror hallway and all the bloody details it provided. He knew Jane was to blame for it. Unlike Adrian or Legion he wasn’t as impressed by her slaughtering of an entire platoon as he was disgusted.
“You… attacked me!” he screamed. “That… sound… that was you!”
“Sometimes music isn’t a knife, it’s a lifejacket.”
She strolled casually to the mirror and held the tiny cat to its reflection. Adrian couldn’t help but notice the tangled lumps of sliced skin caught in her hair. He thought she looked better though; as worryingly scrawny as before but with a slight hue of liveliness. She didn’t look like a walking corpse anymore.
The cat pawed at its mirror image. Jane lit up with a beaming smile.
“Oh, you are the cutest! Well, no you’re not. Every cat has a smile but not every cat can win. Talking of cats…” She turned to the gawking, confused trio. “The walls are see-through. They will see you now.”
Gavin anxiously rose, taking a defensive stand.
“Who will see us now?” he asked angrily.
“The walls,” she answered.
Adrian reached to stop her but she was already gone- the cat too. Gavin witnessed her wake; the unsettling, stagnant air, the meowing, purring cats, the way the sunlight shied, all as though her very presence altered the fundamental laws governing a world. He needed to know- how, why, who?
He charged at the mirror, determined to figure it out. Legion blocked him.
“We can’t keep chasing her like a cat…” They winced as a particularly friendly kitten brushed by. “Like a cat chasing a mouse. And you’re still suffering from the echo-acoustic attack.”
“No, I’m fine,” he lied. He didn’t have time to brood on his thumping headache. “Let’s go.”
The next ‘verse was outstandingly bizarre- even to veteran ‘verse-travellers. Legion gathered they were on the fringes of protracted variable hierarchies, pursuing a singular variable comprehensively diluted via many labyrinthine routes. In other words, they were in the weird part of creation. They had all stayed to the more common ‘verse variants; advanced civilisations, crumbling empires, alien-dominated galaxies, and archaic and verdant valleys with agreeable shepherds droving livestock. This was new territory. If it wasn’t for Jane it might’ve been exciting.
In the middle of what looked like the shattered and burned ruins of a dilapidated house, which could barely be called such given the roof was gone, the walls were a thin crust that rose halfway then gave up, frayed wooden support beams lay lethargically and broken, a frazzled and vacant doorway where once proudly stood a metal door clumsily divided the front wall, and in the centre of the chaos sat two young men close together, crouched over a curio that captured their complete attention. Faint music could be heard drifting through the air. Outside the house a dense and unsettling mist obscured the rest of the world.
Jane luxuriated on the left broken wall, her cat peacefully slumbering on her chest. She motioned to the trio to approach then pointed at the hunched men. They obliged apprehensively.
The closer they got to the men the louder the music bleated. Gavin and Adrian peered over them to discover what was ensnaring their interest so completely while Legion cautiously claimed a vantage point by Jane.
Adrian burst out laughing. Gavin shook his head in disbelief.
“I can’t believe it…”
The two men watched as a kilted tabby cat on its hind legs danced an intricate jig whilst tapping the keys to a small, portable keyboard to gift the sounds of Duran Duran to all in attendance. It seemed incredibly happy to do so, and if cats can indeed smile this one was grinning from ear to ear. Gavin looked down at the two men who were watching the tabby intently.
“So you two would be…” he muttered shyly.
“A proud Christian!” said one.
“A proud Atheist!” said the other.
“I take offence, good sir!” shouted Atheist.
“As do I!” shouted Christian. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain!”
Adrian was in fits of laughter, doubled over and struggling for breath. Gavin loudly exhaled and rubbed his forehead. Legion wondered how the cat was powering the keyboard and how it managed to switch it on given its distinct lack of thumbs.
“How long have you two been sitting… watching this?” Gavin asked.
“Since God put us here!”
“Since we evolved eyes!”
“Let me guess- you’re arguing over whether or not the cat believes in God?” he continued.
The two exchanged mocking glances.
“No, of course not, that would be ridiculous!”
At least that’s something, Gavin thought.
“No, we’re arguing if the kilt is red and black or pink and grey,” said Christian. “I think it’s pink and grey.”
“You’re wrong!” shouted Atheist. “It’s clearly red and black! How can you be so stupid?!”
They started violently bickering over the validity of colour hues and the fluctuating state of shades when under certain types of lighting. Both were bellicosely obdurate in their respective beliefs. Gavin shook his head and faced Jane.
“Why did you bring us here?” he questioned over the loud squabbling.
She tapped the cat napping on her chest.
“Your friend’s a cat,” she said lazily.
“Are they? How so?”
“She’s Schrödinger’s cat.”
Gavin went silent. Adrian’s smile and laughter abruptly halted. Legion lowered their head. Other than the two men arguing there was an ocean of uneasy silence. Any lingering whimsical notions drained. Jane gently moved the cat to her arms then sat up. An outside observer might’ve believed the trio insulted.
She navigated through their respectfully bowed heads and clenched the frame of the decrepit mirror. She waited for one of them to take notice of her. After a few moments Adrian glanced. His chin was trying desperately not to wobble, his eyes were watering, and his countenance was one of profound sorrow. He accepted she didn’t mean to unleash a barbed moroseness but it was there all the same, pitiless and heart-wrenching. He wondered if she was aware of the effect it was taking on them.
She reached her free hand out to him and smiled.
“The walls are see-through,” she said. “A pack of wolves will survive where only one would fall.”
He stared at the presented offering. The girl was endearing, he couldn’t deny that, and appeared more knowledgeable than anyone he’d encountered, albeit with an extra dash of mystery. He didn’t want to admit that the outstretched hand intrigued him.
He took it. Her smile softened.
“The last door is always the hardest to open,” she claimed.
Adrian allowed himself to be pulled through the mirror without argument as though on a leash. Gavin and Legion watched him leave, sulkily permitting Jane to drag him off. Once they recovered their senses, they followed.
Gavin nearly backed through the mirror and if not for Legion shoving him he would’ve succeeded. Legion looked around to see what all the fuss was about and why the smell of sulphur was so overpowering.
“Oh,” they exclaimed.
The gargantuan cavern provided a rocky, lumpy, black granite ledge for them to stand on, which bridged in a tall arch to a circular stone platform, much like an auditorium without audience pews. From the cavern ceiling protruded sharpened pillars and stalactites, from the side walls jutted pointed and malicious horns. Gavin cautiously began the narrow climb over the bridge to what appeared to be the main platform, which joined to other bridges that disappeared into the side walls. Most notably, despite a considerable lack of natural or artificial lighting, and the cavern seemed to be in the dark depths of the earth, there was an abundance of illumination. Legion peeped over the edge.
“Oh,” they repeated.
A lake of burning lava reached halfway to the bridge and completely covered the ground. Bubbles and jets of flame blasted periodically across its undulating surface. It swirled and crawled, rapaciously consuming the eroding rock. The heat in the cavern was astronomical. If not for their shields, Legion would be like a bar of chocolate in a microwave.
Gavin felt dizzy at the ledge. The height was enormous. Even if the lava wasn’t there the drop would be terrifying. He turned his attention to the large platform in the centre, where he spotted Adrian and Jane.
“Legion,” he said. “Over there.”
Precariously and slowly they followed him over the abrasive and stony bridge, being exceedingly deliberate and vigilant with every movement. One mistake would send them plummeting into the seething layer of lava below. Their shields would be eaten up almost instantly, their body seconds later.
They joined Jane and Adrian in the centre of the circular podium. The girl was sitting cross-legged, cooing and playing with her cat. Adrian watched in wonderment.
“So, nice place,” said Legion. “Saves on heating. Maybe we should ask the Ogrohad to put lava in at home.”
“For the last time, you don’t get cold,” Gavin argued with a sigh. “Jane, why are we here?”
She shivered. The cat ducked underneath her gown and climbed up her body, seeking shelter from some unknown threat.
“Guns and bombs… guns and bombs…” she muttered indifferently. “Ready in red. Butterflies aren’t really butter, you know.”
Legion sensed an imminent arrival, whipping on their heels to face the mirror, which shimmered. Gavin and Adrian turned as well, weapons drawn. They could feel an intrusion in the ‘verse.
They waited. Time ticked on. The lava roared.
The mirror shimmered again.
Gavin hastily fired a harpoon as a flash of red shot from the mirror and darted along the cavern wall. He tracked it, firing several more in its path. It zigzagged, dodging the projectiles with unprecedented agility. He rolled as the assassin leapt to the platform and grabbed for him. Gavin managed to sneak out a shot as he dodged, knocking the assassin out of the air and tumbling across the platform. As he recovered, Adrian sprang an attack, jabbing his knife wildly. The mad flurry connected perfectly, each strike piercing the robes and slicing the flesh. The assassin roared furiously as the knife sank each time but Adrian refused to withdraw. With an obtuse slice the knife liberated a thin slather of blue blood from the assassin’s throat. A perfectly aimed kick sent Adrian flying. The assassin stumbled to his feet, only to be struck with a potent plasma bolt from Legion that burned through most of his robes and perilously lacerated his flesh. A blink deferred the attack for a moment, leaving Legion exposed. They swung around as he flashed back, defensively launching a shockwave that was refracted, and were then defenceless as the assassin brutally battered them.
Gavin regained enough sense to fire a harpoon to break the flurry while Adrian moved to the gap between the attacker and Jane- who was observing absorbedly, fascinated by the fight.
The assassin screamed as the harpoon found its mark, claiming a bloody slot in his ribcage. Legion took the advantage as a closing opening and with the stuck harpoon in their grasp, twisted the point. From the wound squelches and ripping rushed to the air, bright blue blood in vile gushes spilled and jetted from the gash. Convinced they were gaining the upper-hand, Legion foolishly lowered their guard. The assassin exploited this brief drop with a heinous uppercut, then a discharge of energy that left them tottering on the edge of the platform.
Aiming yet another shot, Gavin lowered his gun. Adrian fearfully stepped back. Legion swung back fully on the platform and were arguing why no one came to their assistance, then upon looking at the assassin completely changed course and were asking entirely different questions altogether.
The assassin was hovering in the air a few feet above the ground grasping at his throat. Adrian looked to Legion and Gavin for explanation. Given the intrinsic basic shields around anyone with the ability to form one it was considered impossible to perform a mental grapple like this.
Nudging by Adrian, Jane came into view. In one hand she carried her cat, the other was raised and positioned in relation to the choking assassin. A favourable memory was called to Adrian’s attention.
He waved his hand.
“I find your lack of faith-”
“Adrian!” came Gavin’s shrill voice.
Jane looked to him.
“Do you understand now?” she asked.
Gavin nodded sombrely.
“The Pantheon are your enemy,” he said. “As much as they’re ours.”
“And… you really like cats?”
She sighed and rolled her eyes like a disappointed teacher.
She clenched her hand.
Instantly the assassin detonated like a bomb, sending huge chunks of meaty flesh, intestines, organs, blood and arteries outward. The epicentre was a revoltingly blood-spattered, chaotic jumble the mind couldn’t quite fit together. Probably for the best, Gavin thought.
Jane flipped around and waved her hand. Into existence was conjured a rotund orange sphere in the precise centre of the platform. It rotated gradually. The trio watched in astonishment as Jane flicked her fingers and from the orb shot a grand multitude of smaller, orbicular spheres that orbited the larger orange heart like planets around a sun. Faint, scarcely perceptible yellow particles constituted the gaps. Adrian realised each was connected by a thin blue string that originated from the core of the orange sun. It reached to the planets as well. The whole system was in constant flux, constantly rotating and changing. The orange sun dimmed and brightened periodically. It was difficult to properly translate into a tongue known by any in attendance but for all they could see the image was alive.
Jane stepped forward. The system bended and morphed to allow her entrance. Her hands drifted through it. Her cat indolently stroked the sun.
“Walls aren’t always solid,” she said jubilantly. “Sometimes they’re invisible. Not always. Depends on the wall, really.”
Legion similarly glided their hands through the particles, which like water droplets seamlessly floated across the skin.
“We’ve seen this before,” they claimed. “Back on our home ‘verse, after we died and Jack and Emily came to the Lords of Virago and we were resurrected in our new body, this was here. A smaller version of it. This is the Causal Nexus.”
Gavin and Adrian observed it in stunned wonder. A lot of talk concerning the Nexus was made over the past nine months- this was what they fighting for. The Nexus’s survival.
“These are the walls,” Jane continued, twirling in the lights. “And they are see-through.”
Legion was finally beginning to understand, though reasonably Gavin and Adrian remained confounded. They decided to elucidate.
“The Nexus is the controller,” they said. “It distributes endless variables throughout the endless stretch of creation like… a computer system. When one constant encounters a variable, its partners are sent to another universe and so and so forth. Infinite coverage of uncountable amounts of alterations.”
“Yes, I remember all this,” said Gavin grumpily. “And we, as the Ogrohad’s chosen, are anomalies, all of our future possible and impossible variables are forfeit. I know that. What I don’t know is why she’s showing us this or who- or what- she is. Or even how she knows what this looks like and what it is!”
They watched Jane proudly lift her cat over her head as though presenting it to heaven.
“She’s been telling us all along,” said Legion. “Remember? ‘The walls are see-through’. She’s not talking about that stupid cage in the hospital… she’s talking about all the walls– the walls between universes, the walls separating creation. That’s how she knows everything, that’s what she’s been talking about. She sees across creation, into every universe, knowing every variable, observing every constant. Nothing she said was illogical or wrong. She just wasn’t looking in the right universe.”
Gavin considered the theory carefully. The model of creation, as relayed to the team by its Creator, wouldn’t award a single person with that level of insight. The ability to peer across universes would have drastic consequences.
“But who is she?” he asked, pushing all else aside. “What is she? Where is she from? How can she do all this? It’s not okay that an answer spawns more questions.”
“Spawns?” Adrian chuckled.
“I may have read a dictionary earlier.”
Legion moved on quickly.
“She was explaining what she was to us the best she could. We don’t know what or who or why. But clearly she’s powerful, she’s useful, and the Pantheon want her dead. We know it wasn’t them that made her like this. That makes her an ally.”
“You said she can see the whole of creation, right?” Adrian questioned.
“Not all doors are open,” Jane answered.
She tapped a yellow planet, diluting it a deep red that spread to surrounding particles and planets like a virus. They watched it gradually dart among the system and paint every particle and planet red, and then it shot to the orange sun. Red cracks appeared over the sphere’s surface.
“The Crimson Queen,” she added quietly.
“Lilith,” Adrian translated.
“Ah,” said Legion. “The red planets are dead ‘verses. If she’s saying she can’t see into those, then she must be directly connected to the Nexus, the real Nexus. When Lilith takes over a universe it’s taken out of the Nexus’s reach, it’s the only way to explain why she can’t see through those walls.”
Gavin, struggling to follow the concept, nodded. Adrian observed the girl as she absorbed the light of the system.
“Back to my point,” he said, “you said she can see everything; every universe, every constant, every variable, the whole of creation. What would that do to a human mind?”
Jane twirled and chuckled.
“Exactly this,” she said.
“But… that would… that wouldn’t just… do this…” Adrian gestured to her. “It would kill you. How did you survive?”
“There’s always hope.”
Gavin stepped into the fray.
“Alright, alright. We’ve got the… weirdness covered. Causal Nexus, seeing creation, blah, blah, blah. Who is she, why is she, and why are we here?”
Legion tapped her shoulder. She too fascinated by the glowing system to notice.
“We have a theory. If the Pantheon travelled to a universe she could see, she’d know if she was being targeted. And being a clairvoyant, she’d definitely be targeted. She searched for help and found us, put out a beacon to come save her.”
“We all saw the soldiers in the hospital,” Adrian said, wincing. “What was left of them, anyway. And she just blew a person to pieces. She doesn’t need our help.”
“How many soldiers could each of us take? We all have our limits. She was scared… she saw how many of them there are. Imagine seeing the legions of hell marching towards you. She did what she thought was right. As for the soldiers’ deaths and her taking us through all this, we imagine it was to prove herself. She sees the deterioration of the Nexus and wants to help us.”
Jane picked up her cat and danced childishly with it.
“The river must be stopped,” she claimed strangely. “Plug a rock in the way.”
Gavin scratched his head.
“She wants to help us?” he asked. “I suppose… given the circumstances…”
He shook his head.
“No, she can’t. We know nothing about her, other than that she’s dangerous, creation is an open book to her, and her mind’s in pieces. Sean will never let her in.”
Jane turned to the mirror. Her eyes were alight with determination.
“Creations are at the mercy of their creator. We all are.”
“That was hard on the nose,” he groaned. “The Ogrohad doesn’t hold any power over us, especially not Sean.”
She smiled and winked.
“The walls really have you trapped, don’t they?” she teased.
The glowing system sputtered then faded out of existence, beckoning darkness to the stone platform. Fuming flames spurted at its edges. They stood in silence.
“What are we suggesting?” Adrian asked finally.
Jane turned to him.
“Pigeons must return to the nest at some point,” she said. “Especially if they’re capable of blowing a man up with a clenched fist.”
Gavin had to give her that one. If Legion was correct and she was indeed connected to the Nexus then it all made sense- in the strangest, most illogical way possible- and she was innocent. She was the Pantheon’s enemy.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said. “We take her home.”
As though she was a child whose parents announced the arrival of the ice cream van she whooped loudly and skipped to the mirror, humming a tune to her cat’s ecstatic delight. Legion followed absent-mindedly behind, Adrian apprehensively trailed, while Gavin relaxed his breathing. The thought of explaining all of this to Sean was cleaving his chest. The thought of explaining it to Rachel fleetingly crossed him but was rolled into a ball and chucked aside- it was a thought considerably too worrying to consider.
“You know, Jane is a very plain name for someone so interesting,” Legion told Jane as they walked. “It’s the name of someone you’d meet in a shop buying apples, not the name of someone who can see the whole of creation. Since you don’t seem to know or remember your real name, why don’t you- oh. Excuse us, a lot of Janes in our head are deeply insulted.”
They shakily gripped the edge of the mirror and motioned for Jane to enter. She was about to shuffle through when Gavin placed a hand on her shoulder.
“I’ll go through first,” he said dejectedly. “Best to soften the blow.”
“Better use a towel,” she replied softly.
“Lots of reasons. I can think of forty-two right now.”
Gavin shrugged, shaking her peculiarity off. He was starting to warm to it. With a heavy and stormy heart he traversed the surface of the mirror and was brought home.
Rachel sat at the edge of the Ogrohad’s pit, staring deep into the black abyss. She wondered what it would be like to fall to the bottom- to go plop in the monstrous waters below. Specifically, she wondered if she’d survive so close to the Ogrohad’s immense and overwhelming presence. These were perfectly innocent ponderings of course, she withheld no desire to discover the truth.
“What do you think happens next?” she called.
“What do you mean?” said Sean.
“Not talking to you. Big prick, you’re up.”
The cavern rumbled.
In dark the future is hidden, lest the light be forbidden
Swinging around and onto her feet, she joined Sean in the middle of the cavern, fixed attentively on the mirrors. He was waiting.
“How was your coffee?” he asked.
“Like an angel’s breath,” she sighed. “Actually… I guess that should be a ‘Nephilim’s breath’. That’s horrid.”
“The Nephilim don’t breathe.”
“That’s a good point,” she said.
His damnable disinterest wooed his attention from her. He was all too absorbed by the imminent return of the team. In this state he was like a statue and she knew little would move him from his chosen place of guardianship.
“If we’re going to be like this all day and night,” she said, “I’m going to need some more coffee. Want a cup?”
“Do we have any cinnamon?”
She screwed up her face.
“Butter in your coffee?”
“It’s not like I’m trying to lose weight,” he said, shrugging.
She left to the kitchen. His eyes never wavered from the mirrors. The right-most frame quivered.
To his surprise, Gavin appeared alone. His gaze was averted like a shameful dog avoiding its owner, having broken something of importance. He shuffled nervously closer.
“Gavin, where is everyone?”
“They’ll be through in a moment,” he said meekly. “There’s something we have to discuss first.”
Sean thought he looked afraid. Fear wasn’t what he aimed to inspire in his team. He did his best to smile.
“What is it?”
Gavin’s mouth opened then clamped tightly shut as the mirror behind him glimmered, and from it came the emaciated, gawky form of Jane. She looked around the cavern with an astonished and fascinated smile. A few seconds later Legion and Adrian appeared, panting and scowling.
“She just…” Legion fumed. “She just ran straight through. How in the hell did she do that? Are the barriers not up?”
“Of course they are,” she whispered. “Like big blue walls.”
Sean examined the young girl. She was freakishly thin, disturbingly undernourished, her eyes spiralled inwardly as though never ending, but most disconcerting of all was the thick layer of dried blood clinging to her skin and hospital gown, and the corpulent portions of skin tangled in her unkempt red hair. He noticed a grey cat cradled in her arms. She carried in her presence an inexplicable air equally as terrifying as it was impressive.
“This must be the girl you were referring to before,” he said gruffly. “The one I told you not to bring here.”
She smiled at him.
“Even the light must embrace the dark, to walk in the shadows of the night,” she said.
“Light doesn’t walk.”
“Depends on where you’re looking.”
Sean addressed Gavin.
“Do we know who she is yet? Anything about her at all?”
“We’ve actually discovered quite a bit about her,” he claimed.
The cat meowed loudly and begged to be put down. Jane obliged and permitted it free reign of the cavern.
“What’s her name?”
“I… don’t know.”
“Where’s she from?”
“How did she know Lilith’s insignia?”
“Ah!” Gavin shouted, laughing. “We do know that!”
“Why do we now have a cat?”
“I… don’t know.”
Legion pushed Gavin aside.
“There’s a lot to discuss,” they said. “We know what she is, what she’s capable of, and why it’s safer she’s here. It’ll take a bit of explaining to do.”
Sean met Jane’s fascinated stare with an icy glint.
“And in the meantime she goes back to wherever she came from,” he commanded.
“Sean,” Adrian pleaded. “Just listen to Legion, they’ll explain everything. But…”
He trailed off as Rachel approached. She eyed the girl carefully, sizing her up, seemingly more concerned by the girl’s physical appearance than her presence in the cavern. She circled, constantly examining and studying. Jane’s smile twitched- she was doing her best to stay calm.
Eventually Rachel concluded her scrutiny.
“Who’s the girl?” she demanded.
Everyone but Jane found comfort in the look of the stone floor.
“She was targeted by the Pantheon,” Legion said. “They sent an assassin… which she killed. As well as a platoon of Regime soldiers.”
Sean furrowed his brow.
“She took down Regime soldiers and a Pantheon assassin all by herself?”
“Yes. As we said, we can explain everything. Right now, you have to trust us that she’s not a danger. She’s an ally.”
Rachel approached the girl. Her dominant presence shrunk Jane markedly.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
Jane met her steel gaze unwaveringly.
“Do you know your name?”
“Robins don’t fly south for the winter,” Jane replied timidly.
Rachel glared at her mutely.
Gavin braced for the cutting remark, the scathing retort, the sardonic comment. It wasn’t that Rachel was a cruel person, it was that her sharp-tongue took some getting used to.
Sean winced, tensing up in dread.
There was no such comment, retort, or remark, no extension of derogatory ideals or disheartenment. Instantly Rachel’s expression softened as though meeting an old friend for the first time in a very long time. She immediately embraced the girl and held her close.
“I know,” she whispered. “It’s okay, I know.”
Unexpectedly and hesitantly, Jane returned the hug, burying her head in Rachel’s shoulder. And there they were intertwined for a minute.
Eventually they disengaged.
“She stays,” Rachel announced, wiping her eyes.
“She stays. And if anyone,” she glanced at Sean and the Ogrohad’s pit, “has a problem with that, we can discuss it over a friendly game of monopoly.”
Sean’s eyes were dragged unerringly to the Monopoly board lodged in the side of the cavern, which a few days ago narrowly missed taking up residence on the front of his forehead.
“She stays, I guess,” said Sean. “I want everyone in the drawing room and I want someone to explain all of this.”
The cat purred and rubbed against his leg. Rachel cooed at it.
“What a pretty little thing,” she said. “What’s it called?”
“She’s called Little,” Jane proclaimed.
Rachel nodded in appreciation, then rested a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“You look famished. Have you eaten?”
“Sustenance is required.”
“The kitchen’s over there, help yourself to anything. Someone’ll get Little some cat food later.”
Jane merrily bounced out of sight and into the kitchen, shadowed closely by an engrossed Little. Almost instantly the sound of pots and pans being thrown around, cupboard doors being slammed open and shut, and packets and wrappers being torn covetously open rebounded stridently through the cavern.
Sean signalled for the team to pile into the drawing room. As they passed the open archway to the kitchen they all screeched to a halt. Uniformly they did a double take.
“Well… that’s weird,” Sean mumbled. “Very, very weird.”
Jane was at the cupboards, ravenously emptying the shelves. Little was on her back, clinging to the gown for dear life. The issue wasn’t with the blur in which she removed, unpackaged, and ate the food, or the unsettling atmosphere that adhered to her like a perfume, the issue was that she amenably challenged the integral cogency and commended standard medium of verticality.
In other words, she was hanging upside down from the ceiling.
She noticed the group gawping at her like she was a whale on a beach. She waved excitedly.
“Okay then,” said Sean, bewildered. “I guess this’ll be explained?”
“Uh…” Legion murmured. “Maybe.”
In the drawing room, heated by a roaring fire, Sean processed the story. Legion’s supposition regarding the Nexus’s link to Jane agreed with him. If she was indeed cursed with limitless sight she was a valuable target for Lilith to eradicate. If she was indeed blessed with limitless sight she was a valuable addition to the team. Once the story was over and he was caught up, Sean addressed the issues.
“We still don’t know who she is,” he said. “Or where she’s from, or how or why she’s connected to the Nexus.”
“Maybe the Ogrohad knows,” Legion postulated.
“We would know if It knew. But… Rachel’s already made her decision. Jane stays.”
There was a communal sigh of relief. Sean neglected to join it.
“Lilith wants her dead,” said Rachel, picking up on his reservedness. “That makes her a target, which makes her a friend. It doesn’t matter who she was before now, what she’s done in her past, what matters is that she’s safe.”
Legion cocked an eyebrow, Gavin glanced up, Adrian abandoned his thoughts, and Sean narrowed his eyes. Rachel shrugged under their committed glares.
“Don’t sound so surprised,” she said. “I’m actually quite a nice person. Point is- I think there are a few people here who wouldn’t like to be judged on the merits of their past. In fact, I think some would like to forget their pasts. It didn’t matter to any of us what the others did before we met. We’ve forgiven soldiers, we’ve forgiven thieves, we’ve even forgiven whatever the hell Legion have done, we’ve forgiven each and every bad choice any of us have made because what matters is who we are now. That girl… is creepy, she’s weird, hunted by Lilith, connected to the Nexus, and is called Jane. And she has a cat called Little. That’s who she is to us, we don’t need to know any more than that. Not only that, she proved herself to us.”
Sean silently approved of the conclusion. The other three dipped their heads until their chins could bury no further. The words bounced around like ricocheting bullets.
“She’s here now,” he echoed. “She’s one of us. Ogro help her.”
“I like her,” said Adrian gently. “She’s… funny.”
They all turned to the entrance as an unfamiliar presence, like a walking, breathing light casting domineering luminescence, arrived. Jane strolled in, three loafs of bread tucked under her arms and slices of cheese tumbling from her mouth. Little trotted behind. With a single leap she cleared the couch and seamlessly blended the movement into sitting cross-legged on the floor. Sean was just happy she wasn’t walking on the ceiling.
“You’re weird,” he said.
“And you’re boring,” she replied.
“So you do make sense sometimes. Kind of like how a broken clock is right twice a day.”
“But wrong every other time,” she retorted, mouth full.
She fed Little a bite of bread, which the cat joyfully ate. She wiped the crumbs and gestured to Sean.
“The walls are see-through,” she said. “An assembly of the chosen.”
“Like a parliament?” Rachel chuckled.
“Only not corrupted and filled with idiots,” Jane said without a hint of sarcasm. “Though, those are there too.”
Sean looked her over. Despite the exudence of unnatural energies and vibes she was placidly innocent. As she consumed one slice of bread after the other, piling it on top of the mountain of cheese, he was amazed by her unique aura and the incongruous nature of her appearance. Like a child she shovelled down food- like a cold-blooded killer she was caked in dried blood. Her strangeness was rivalled only by her unmatched affinity with normality. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Connection with the Nexus and the ability to witness the whole of creation, and the infinite amount of fluctuating possibilities, was sure to create an equally as fluctuating personality.
“You must be jealous, Legion,” he said. “You’re not the weirdest or most interesting person in the team anymore.”
“Peoples- the term is peoples! How many times?!”
“You’re taking offence at that but not anything else? I thought you took pride in your… eccentricity.”
“Eccentricities. You’re doing this to tease us, aren’t you?”
“Cats catch mice,” Jane offered.
Rachel snickered. Legion waved their arms around defensively.
For the next few hours they spoke at length as a rounded team, an activity they had rarely engaged in as of late. Like a pair of leather shoes Jane was broken in. She adjusted easily to the group. As the night grew on and the lights in the cavern dimmed, Sean and Rachel announced their retirement and withdrew to the bedroom.
Rachel lay flat on the bed, Sean sat on the edge and painfully removed his boots. The night’s antics were at the forefront of his thoughts.
“Jane’s a nice girl,” he said. “I didn’t expect her to fit in so well. It was like she was meant to be.”
“She is a nice girl,” she confirmed. “Makes me feel like… like we’re a team again.”
“Weird, isn’t it?”
“Very,” she said. She couldn’t help a modicum of guilt in admitting the team was drifting apart. “You know, Adrian’s taken quite a liking to her, I think.”
Sean chucked his boots to the side, presenting them with a middle finger for their troubles.
“That’s not gonna work,” he grumbled. “Look at the age difference. How old is she?”
“When I asked her she said, ‘time, and by extension the definition of age, is a defunct concept and dimension that now exists purely as the internal perception of external stimuli, namely degradation and the march of entropy.”
His brow furrowed as he put the pieces together.
“What?” he said eventually.
“Not important. She did say she’s been ‘decaying’ for twenty-one years.”
“And how old’s Adrian- forty something?”
He swung around in disbelief.
“No way,” he said. “Did you see all those wrinkles? And his eyes, there’s no way those are the eyes of a twenty-five year old. He’s thirty at the youngest.”
“He’s twenty-five,” Rachel reaffirmed. “Remember, he’s from a ‘verse that didn’t figure out poisoning your eyes to dilate your pupils was a bad thing. And he had a pretty hard life. I don’t think youth was focused on since you weren’t likely to make it to an old age.”
He stared at the wall, muttering to himself.
“Adrian’s twenty-five… twenty-five. Wait, who’s the oldest?”
“That would be the Ogrohad at a bazillion-gazillion-trillion-quazillion-years old. Then it’s Jack.”
Hovering at the edge of the bed, a sneaking remorsefulness struck him. It was as though Jack and Emily were branded on the flesh of the team and the mere mention of them reignited the pain.
“How capable do you think she is?” she asked.
“You heard them talk about the soldiers and the assassin. She’s fully capable. She might be the most capable and most powerful out of all of us.”
He looked at the archway that opened effortlessly to the hallway.
“You don’t have to hide,” he called.
Silence met him.
A few seconds later strands of straggly red hair appeared from the top of the archway, dangling downwards. A moment after that, a forehead materialised, followed by a very wide pair of startlingly blue eyes.
Like a monkey Jane swung upside down from the wall.
“Curious,” she said.
Little meowed somewhere off to the side.
“What is?” Sean asked.
“Fish sleep on the ocean floor.”
Rachel came to his rescue.
“I think she’s asking where she sleeps,” she offered.
“Robins don’t fly south for the winter.”
“Oh… I don’t know then.”
She dropped from her perch, flipped mid-air, and landed square on her feet. Little purred tenderly. Sean noticed she was still wearing the manky hospital gown and her skin was stained with dried blood.
“We do have a shower, you know,” he advised. “And I’m sure Rachel has clothes for you.”
“I have loads to give away,” Rachel confirmed. “If you want we can go through them all tomorrow.”
Jane smiled and nodded. Her lip wobbled.
“Thank you,” she said. “That’s what I came to say. I think. Thank you.”
“Your vision’s not as bad now that you’re close to the Ogrohad, right?”
“It’s a plaster, not a bandage.”
He gave her a pat on the shoulder, which she readily accepted.
“Do you want to sleep in here tonight?” he asked. “I’ll stay in the kitchen until we can figure out a sleeping arrangement.”
She shook her hands and frowned. Sean thought she was searching for an answer.
“Amphibians don’t sleep,” she said. “And… confusion.”
“You don’t want to sleep?”
“It’s… confusion. Bloodlust. A vampire feeding.”
Sean condensed the information. Confusion, bloodlust, vampire feeding- a frenzy, chaos…
“No control,” he said. “You lose control when you sleep.”
“Physical sight distracts.”
The thought of viewing the entirety of creation vexed the mind. Like a caring father he wished to assist her.
“There’s not much you can do around here for leisure,” he told her. “I’m not sure how you’d spend your time. And the Ogrohad will… always be there. Trust me, It’s not-”
“Company isn’t required,” she said. “I have Little.”
She looked to the cavern, then back to Sean. Her eyes changed dramatically. She leaned in close by his ear.
“Creation is endless… and has far, far scarier things than me to offer.”
Sean shivered. Her aura was intense like a blaring siren, then suddenly softened. She smiled and gaudily skipped to the main cavern. Little pranced behind her. Sean grinned as she disappeared around the corner.
She bounced into the main cavern, dancing and twirling. Again she was caught in a churning current, dragged left and right, carted downstream to a luscious, fecund emerald-land, rolling grassy hills, bands of opulent forestry, where a perky azure sky dotted with fantastically brush-stroked clouds and a beaming, glistening sun buddied the horizon. Her naked toes brushed through the flecks of grass, her hair swam in the gentle breeze, her fingers glided through to falling leaves, her face warmed in the abundant sun.
She shivered. The azure sky darkened, the sunshine sapped, colour drained, the wind whipped into a frenzy, the lush forestry liquefied, the leaves wrinkled and desiccated, the clouds to shapes of reaching gangling fingers contorted. Along the gusts of stormy wind latched an icy chill. Snow started to fall.
She reached out and caught a flake in her palm. Its contoured edges were unlike the snow she’d expected. As she rubbed it, it dissolved and smudged. It dissolved like…
With a solitary bound she was back in the cavern. She looked left, then right. Everything was calm once more. Little stroked her leg. Sighing, she picked her up and moved to the mirrors.
Her reflection ogled back at her. Jane studied it. Her hand glided across her face.
Is this my face? Where did it come from? Has it always looked like this?
The slanted cheekbones and bumpy nose were unfamiliar. She leaned against the mirror. It was like staring into the hysterical eyes of a monster. And she had seen many of those. None quite as terrifying.
Little scaled up her gown and got snug on the top of her head, roiling among the tangled curls. She smiled.
“Monsters and hope,” she whispered. “Where do I stand?”
Little meowed. Jane picked her up and like a baby coddled the tiny cat. In her petite eyes Jane found a minute degree of relief.
They swanned in the cavern, ‘The Blue Danube’ drifting to Jane as though in a dream. Something wicked, she thought, something beautiful.
As she pirouetted and danced with Little and the world shifted a shade brighter, Sean watched from afar with an inquisitive mind. He suspected the Ogrohad knew more than It let on. It wouldn’t be the first time It concealed imperative information from him and the team. It was connected to the Nexus, much like Jane, so knowledge of her should be known to It. Ygssrettfurr appeared to know. There was no point interrogating either of them- the words wouldn’t be spoken. At least, not in a way he could comprehend.
Jane danced and danced. She was innocent, Sean thought. This wasn’t her fault or her doing. She didn’t deserve this world or her curse. Regardless, she was now a part of the team, a member of his family, and she would be protected until they had nothing left to give.