Chapter

15

> John: Fight Lord English.

All around you is pandemonium, a multichromatic cyclone of shrieks and clashing colors, as Meenah’s ghost army claws at the borders of Paradox Space. Wait, that is her army, right? It seems like it’s been so long since you’ve thought about any of this. But you’re pretty sure this is the army you, Meenah, Vriska, and the other Serket were trying to raise. So it’s true, then. The juju has finally unloaded you, exactly where you needed to be.

Every screaming body pitches down and goes white the closer it gets to the black hole above you. And below, front and center, is Lord English himself: the big deal version, pimped up, hulked out, and throwing a huge, universe-ending tantrum. Unlike his younger form, his eyes aren’t flickering wildly. They’re locked in place, an eight ball in each socket. You briefly wonder what that means, but your curiosity is interrupted by a massive outburst of technicolor dragon breath coming from his mouth. The laser show tears its way through a squadron of ghosts led by... is that... Tavros?

Seems like an awful choice to lead an army, but what do you know. Wasn’t Vriska supposed to be leading the charge? Where is she, anyway?

> Listen.

You don’t have time to dwell on Vriska. She’s probably somewhere around here, biding her time, waiting to execute her masterstroke and finish English off at just the right moment, like the cunning bitch she is. No, you can’t think about that now. You’re becoming enraptured by the sound surrounding you. Not a sound... a sensation. A subharmonic symphony that you can only hear in your bones. This is it: the end of Paradox Space. The thing you saw in your anime dreams. A hard lump of air travels down your throat but you—

> Don’t hesitate!

Behind you the juju disappears, sucked out of reality with a POP. You move your arms in a dumb little motion, sort of like jazz hands, and summon up a wisp of wind to keep your cracked glasses in place. You then pull one of your sickest hammers out of your strife deck. Your teen friends follow suit. You cast a glance back over your shoulder at them. They all look pretty cool. Rose knitting light around her with the Quills of Echidna, Dave with his sword Caledfwlch at the ready, trailing time distortions behind him that look, if you don’t squint, a lot like JPEG artifacts. Jade’s got her favorite gun cocked and ready, with her ears perked up.

JADE: lets DO this!!!!

ROSE: Don’t get overconfident.

ROSE: We have to do it exactly like we discussed. First...

But Rose doesn’t get to finish what she was trying to say. Lord English’s mouth roars open and a wave of energy blasts through your group. Rose is the only one caught in it. She dissolves in slow motion. You can see the outline of her body in shadow. One arm thrown up over her eyes, shoulders pulled up defensively, cape billowing out behind her. She leaves an afterimage of shimmering light in her wake and then dissipates, drifting apart like a handful of salt tossed out to sea. You can almost hear the cosmic clock counting down, tick tock, and a chime to accompany her fate: Heroic.

JADE: rose!!!! no!!!!!!!!

Jade doesn’t wait to fire. Space splinters open around her so loudly it drowns out the fire from her rifle. Lord English raises one of his giant, fuck-off hands to deflect her anomaly-powered bullets, giving Dave an opportunity to attack. Dave raises his legendary blade and aims for the impressively beefy torso. It should be a sure hit, like slashing the side of an unusually broad, green barn. But he whiffs completely. It’s a wonder how such a big man can move so fast.

Jade inspects her rifle, and tosses it aside. What is she doing? With all the powers of a Witch of Space at her command, combined with the infinite abilities of a First Guardian, she’s still messing around with basic firearms? She makes two tight fists and strikes a pose befitting of a warrior about to power the fuck up. She focuses, and strains. A doggy snarl rips its way through her clenched teeth. A hazy aura envelops her, as space buckles and lenses about her form. And then...

Nothing. No crackle of electricity. No licks of chartreuse flame. She searches within, realizes her power source is completely unavailable to her. Then she looks up, and it dawns on her. That thing in the sky, the hungry black orb gobbling up everything in sight... that’s where the green sun used to be. It’s been swallowed completely by a black hole. The realization is horrifying. She feels suddenly, absolutely helpless.

Jade opens her mouth to scream for help, but she’s cut off. A razor-sharp fragment of reality slams into her back. It skewers her, exiting right through the center of the space symbol on her hoodie. She chokes and goes limp, encircled by a halo of her own blood.

> Get in there!

You’re barely a minute into the battle and both your tactician and your most powerful player are down. You summon a windstorm to momentarily keep Lord English preoccupied, and try to grab your sister’s wrist. Instead, you catch her by the hem of her skirt. Lord English struggles to emerge from the wind-prison you just whipped up. You can see one of his arms flailing just outside the circumference of your storm. Tavros has pulled himself to his feet and, recognizing English’s temporary state of vulnerability, directs the ghosts on his side to attack. No one is paying attention to him.

Jade is floating away from you. You’re having a hard time maintaining your whirlwind, your glasses, your hammer, and your grip on her. Lord English’s head has emerged from the apex of your storm. He looks directly at you, and his mighty jaw creaks open slowly, well beyond the reasonable capacity of any mortal mandible hinge. You stare directly down the dark barrel of his throat, which readies another terrible laser shot. There’s not much time to react.

> Make a decision.

You let Jade go. She floats in literal slow motion, buoyed by the billows of her skirt. You summon a gust of wind and push her farther away from the battle. You’re hit by a blowback from the current, and a line of her blood splashes across your face. But releasing her has created enough separation, just as you hoped. The laser breath passes between you, narrowly missing you both.

You reel back like you’ve just been punched. Your control over the storm goes haywire for a second, long enough for Lord English to free his gaudy gold peg leg from it and, more catastrophically, for you to drop your already broken glasses. You whirl around and swing your hammer to bop his horrible, deadly skull back into your storm. You can’t really see what’s going on, but you hear a gigantic CRUNCH. And then another. And another. It sounds like a cereal commercial is playing outside the periphery of your vision.

JOHN: dave!

DAVE: what

JOHN: is lord english... eating my hammer?

DAVE: yeah dude he totally is

JOHN: what the FUCK.

It’s a true outrage. This isn’t going to work, waging battle without your glasses. Lord English has just eaten one of your sickest hammers due to your blind folly.

You take a deep breath and dive down, right into the sea of ghosts. You land clumsily, palms first, and do an accidental handspring right into a bunch of alternate timeline trolls you don’t recognize.

JOHN: uh, hey guys. anyone see a pair of glasses down here? it’s pretty important.

Everybody shrugs. This gaggle of lost souls collectively personifies uselessness. It is inconceivable to you that a single one of them will survive this battle. Perhaps it’s for the best.

Behind you, the wind barrier tears open. Lord English explodes from his confinement and swings his peg leg through the army. Ghosts scatter like bowling pins, many flying into the cracks in space. Before the leg hits you, a troll leaps into action and blocks the blow. Her trident makes a satisfying ring off the round of the peg and sends it skidding backward.

JOHN: woah, that was a close one!

MEENAH: shell of time to finally show up

JOHN: sorry, we were kinda busy!

JOHN: er, bit of a weird question but...

JOHN: have you seen a pair of glasses down here?

TAVROS: uH, aRE THESE WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?

Tavros appears behind you and hands over your glasses, still in two pieces. You return them to your face so you can take a quick assessment of the battlefield.

> Take a quick assessment of the battlefield.

Oh boy. Lord English, now free from your wind-trap, is stomping around, throwing an even bigger shitfit than before. The black hole above him is getting bigger. You can see the ghosts at the edge of the battlefield tumbling through space toward it: distorted, screaming, and helpless.

Also, Tavros suddenly is leading an admirable charge of about six ghosts to attack Lord English’s flesh foot. You wince, because you can see what’s coming before it happens. It’s a shame, because you didn’t have the chance to thank him for finding your glasses. English raises his knee and stomps three ghosts into oblivion. The other four, Tavros included, get vaporized in a beam. The ghost army seems to be thinning out pretty badly by now. Most of the ones remaining are either fleeing or getting sucked into the hole.

You whip out another hammer. A classic this time, the Wrinklefucker. Its boinging pair of irons are hot, hissing, and ready for action. You use the wind to propel yourself back toward the fray. Dave is slicing papercuts into English’s torso with glancing nicks from his blade, but the monster is spry as ever, making him a difficult target. You take advantage of his distracted cavorting to whack him on the side of the skull. Your hammer connects with a satisfying crunch, and he stumbles back, but recovers and lunges forward in a motion so quick you can barely follow it.

English grabs the Wrinklefucker with his mouth. You hold on tight, but he starts shaking his head rapidly the way a dog with a rabbit tries to break its neck. He chomps down hard and shatters the hammer’s head, gobbling down the broken pieces. You watch incredulously as the giant dude eats yet another one of your favorite hammers. Unbelievable. He lunges for the handle in a ridiculously greedy attempt to finish what’s left of your weapon. You recoil, careening out toward the black hole, but manage to stabilize yourself. You look at the handle of your tragically masticated Wrinklefucker, shrug, and toss it into the hole.

Glancing back down toward your foe, you notice Meenah still appears to be hanging on, clinging to his left suspender.

MEENAH: yo hold on

MEENAH: goin in for the krill

Dave takes a step back to provide some space for whatever killer move she’s got up her sleeve. She raises her trident and jams it into the back of Lord English’s neck. English reacts as if he’s been stung by a bee. He howls and rears up, throwing Meenah off his back with a force that sends her hurtling out into space. You can’t track her into the void with your eyes, she’s flung so far and so fast. You can only assume the worst.

Glancing back down, you see English hasn’t wasted any time after ridding himself of the irksome Heiress. He has Dave pinned under his big green foot and is applying pressure. You’ve got to act fast. You flip out another hammer—you don’t care which one—and send it flying toward the monster’s face. English quickly whips his head in the direction of the sailing hammer, and swallows it whole. You rush after it, reaching for another hammer without thinking. The brief distraction, aside from providing English with another tasty hammer-snack, seems to have bought Dave just enough wiggle room to slip out from under the foot, regain his composure, and draw his sword.

DAVE: john i need a little...

Dave ducks a wide blow from English’s swinging fist. He backs up nervously, holding his sword out in front of him with two shaking hands.

DAVE: anything

DAVE: i need a little anything right now

DAVE: literally any stupid fucking thing you can do

JOHN: i’m on it!

You pop your strife deck open and just spam the hell out of your remaining hammers. A few excellent hammers that cost you a fortune to make, a bunch of shitty hammers you made as a joke, and everything in between. With another flick of your wrist you spin them around you so fast they form a perfectly impenetrable barrier of pure Shitty Hammer. Okay, the barrier’s probably not the slightest bit impenetrable, but you’ve gotta psych yourself up for this next attack somehow. In your hands is a weapon you haven’t thought about in a long time: the Pop-a-matic Vrillyhoo. It hums with both tricksy energy and the barely contained potential for mischief. You strike the baddest-ass pose possible to strike while wielding such a clownish-looking implement, and begin your advance.

However, you’re interrupted by a voice screaming out from behind you. It’s half familiar, half... cat?

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < waaaaaaaaaaaait

You whip your head around just in time to see a bolt of orange-and-green energy racing by you like a bullet. It slams into Lord English and sends him stumbling.

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < im back

Dave stands there with his sword, absolutely agog, his expression perfectly reflecting a blend of horror and the total inability to process who or what he is looking at.

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < dude i cant believe you dont recognize me

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < its me davesprite

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < and also nepeta?

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < now were called davepetasprite^2

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < we purrmenantly merged forms and worked out all our shit!

DAVE: oh

DAVE: well that sounds fucked up but ok

Davepeta spreads their wings, sending waves of warm light through the battlefield. The light feels comforting, somehow, when it hits you. Behind them, Lord English is struggling to his feet again, roaring as he rolls from one side to the other like a kicked-over turtle. His muscles are so huge it’s hard for him to maneuver.

It would be hilarious, if only all of reality weren’t tearing apart at the seams around you. The sky shivers and shakes, raining needles of breached matter that burst and shatter at all angles, opening new voids where they land. Above the bedlam, Davepeta is finishing up an inspiring speech. You realize you tuned most of it out due to the surrounding chaos.

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < i know it looks pawful right now but we can do it

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < in fact were literally the only ones who can do it

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < after all

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < it is our destiny B33

Well, that last bit was pretty good, you guess. At least you caught the end, which was presumably the most important and uplifting part. You and Dave exchange a look that silently says all that needs to be said right now. Davepeta is right. You three are the only ones left, and there’s no room for failure.

> Final Round.

The last leg of the fight proceeds like a well-oiled machine. Perhaps a well-oiled machine careening down a steep hill toward the edge of a cliff, but well-oiled nonetheless. You, Dave, and Davepeta: that’s what you call a team. And not just because, upon examining your surroundings, you three appear to be the last three living or dead beings left in existence. But dammit, you’ll take it. You turn your hammers into an efficient spiral, a carousel of ass-kicking, and direct its fury right at Lord English’s face. The butts of the hammers hit him over and over again, like racking up points in a slot machine.

Dave manages to carve a red line up Lord English’s side, drawing real blood this time. The slash snaps one of his suspenders in half, and must sever something else too, because the sword makes a gristly, meaty squelch when he pulls it out. Dave turns a half second too late to avoid getting sprayed by the wound.

English howls and swipes at Dave. Not wasting any time, you bury a hammer in his gaping mouth. Unsurprisingly, it gets swallowed, so you throw another one. Now you’re just throwing them into his fucking mouth like you’re feeding him Scooby Snacks. It’s a gluttonous display you won’t soon forget. You realize you seem to be stuck in a cycle and are in serious danger of running out of hammers.

JOHN: dave...cat sprite thing! help!

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < coming bro

Davepeta scrapes their cool Wolverine claws up Lord English’s back, and then kicks him in the back of the head. You time it perfectly and complete the combo with a well-placed Vrillyhoo undercut to his jaw.

On the snapback, Lord English grabs the head of the hammer in his mouth.

JOHN: oh no. not again... you...

JOHN: big, ugly oaf!

JOHN: i really, REALLY like this hammer!

Maybe it’s the sentiment attached to the hammer, or maybe you’re just fed up with this gross pig treating your full inventory of hammers like an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the bullshit stops HERE, you think. Which is why you refuse to let the handle go when English wraps his tongue around it and unhinges his jaw with a sick, wet pop. You plant one foot under his nose and the other on his mandible and tug back. He makes a guttural sound at the back of his throat and sucks the Vrillyhoo deeper in. Your heel slips on some drool, and your whole leg skids straight into his mouth.

You twist, off balance, and fail to catch yourself. You only let go of the hammer when you feel the walls of his throat constrict around your ankles. The pressure sucks you in up to the knees with one gulp. Vrillyhoo is in his stomach, and you’re following it down quicker than you can even process. Is this the end? No, you think. This is such an unfairly stupid fucking way to die!

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < john!!

Davepeta flashes behind you and hooks their arms under your shoulders. They yank you out, clearing your head from the monster’s maw at least. But English rehinges his jaw and clamps down on your chest. Hard.

Davepeta reacts quickly, shoving their claws between his molars. You can hear them growling as they slowly twist their arm to pry the massive jaw open.

You’re not dead yet, but Lord English definitely got a big, sharp tooth in you. Your vision reels and goes blurry, then patchy, then dark, then—

> Don’t fucking die.

You pass out for... well, you have no idea how long it was. But it was long enough for Davepeta to get you out of Lord English’s mouth. You can see their face floating above you. They’re just a smudge of neon swimming in a sea of chaos.

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < wrow you almost got vored to death

JOHN: what?

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < im afuraid to say that you look like total shit my dude

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < you should stay here while we wind this bitch down

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < purromeows me you wont move

JOHN: i... purromeows?

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < oh hehe

DAVEPETASPRITE^2: B33 < promise

JOHN: oh...

Davepeta holds something up to your face: your glasses. They tuck them into the front pocket of your hoodie and pat you on the head before darting through the air back towards the battle.

You’re woozy and don’t have the energy to stop yourself from drifting. There’s blood floating up around you, dilute and bubbly in the air like cooking oil in water. It’s yours.

> Examine wound.

You lift your chin and see it: Lord English’s gold tooth cracked off at the base and embedded in your chest. It must be stuck between two of your ribs, you think, because it hurts like a bitch when you try to breathe. You keep your head up and watch the battle, but it’s all so indistinct and far away, playing out like shadow theater on a wall.

Dave finds his moment. He rams Caledfwlch into Lord English’s chest, all the way up to the hilt. It penetrates his flesh like nothing else has to this point. The wound around the blade sizzles slightly. The weapon—the unusual material it’s made out of—is poison to English. He cries out in a cracked, broken staccato. It’s an earsplitting wail that cleaves the last of the Furthest Ring apart. Reality falls away from the mooring of the all-surrounding white light like a peeled eggshell.

Dave’s trying to get his sword free but he’s stuck. English’s shriek morphs into a sinister, predatory rattle as his jaw creaks open. His mouth envelops Dave’s head and snaps shut. He twists once, then twice, then again with a CRACK. A disaster of blood instantly coats his skull and upper torso. He swallows the disembodied head whole with a triumphant gulp. The limp torso goes spiraling lazily in the direction of the black hole.

Davepeta is yelling something indistinct. Or maybe they’re just yowling at the top of their lungs. That’s what you feel like doing right now, but you can’t move. Your limbs feel like lead. You consult your strife deck, but you’ve got nothing left. No hammers, no nothing. It’s up to Davepeta, who appears to have plenty left. If not in the strife deck per se, then in the heart.

During the beast’s grisly moment of gloating over the younger Strider’s death, Davepeta stands twenty paces behind him, crouches low to the ground, wiggles their behind, and pounces. They cling to English’s back, wrap their legs around his midriff, draw back their arms, and plunge their claws deep into the behemoth’s armpits. Their gloved hands end up knuckle-deep in the upper serratus muscles on either side. Davepeta then spreads their wings in an awe-inspiring display. An unwitting spectator viewing Lord English from the front might suspect the garish orange-green wings belonged to English himself.

Davepeta then, with all their might, lifts Lord English into the air and flies toward the black hole, trailing ribbons of blood and neon. English resists fiercely, but they’re both already locked into the gravity well, beyond any threshold of escape. He cannot do anything about it, no matter how much he screams and cries. This victory, this final sacrifice, has always been the destiny of Davepeta, as they have sensed from the moment they were created. And to die on this day, in this way, has always been the destiny of Lord English.

The black hole—the gaping, implacable, cosmic embodiment of the dead cherub, his long-departed sister—finally welcomes Lord English home.

English and Davepeta are sucked in with a subatomic whimper. The reunion sends shock waves across the pitiful remains of Paradox Space. And then everything is wholly, utterly, and categorically silent. It’s over. Lord English is dead.

But it doesn’t feel over, somehow. You don’t feel like you’ve won. You can barely feel anything, actually. All you can think about, for now, is...

Davepeta. How they were so unfettered and brave. How they sacrificed themselves by flying right into the black hole like...

Like a fucking piece of garbage, you can almost hear Dave saying. May God rest his soul.

You collapse against whatever is passing for the floor at this moment of utterly null corporeal conditions surrounding you. It doesn’t feel possible. You’re not sure you can even trust your perception well enough to believe it. But it seems to be over. You’ve convinced yourself of this truth well enough to allow yourself to exhale. Enough to allow yourself to suddenly acknowledge the agony coursing through your body, emanating from the gold tooth lodged in your chest. Enough to allow yourself to succumb to the overwhelming urge to sleep.

> Close your eyes.

> ==>
Advertisement