Chapter

20

Jade gasps awake, and begins to spiral.

Her body vibrates, sending waves of space distortion out in all directions. But there’s nothing to absorb those distortions—no space, no nothing. She’s floating in a void of pure, overwhelming light. She feels it even before she feels the pain from the wound in her chest. The vast emptiness surrounding her. The absolute abyss once known as the Furthest Ring.

For a moment, she has the feeling that she’s recalling something. Images and sounds in her head that resemble memories. But the memories aren’t hers, exactly. They seem to be someone else’s. There’s an older version of Roxy... someone with a cheerful green skull for a head, who was... Roxy’s girlfriend? Something about an election. No, this doesn’t make any sense at all. The memories are slipping away, anyway. Quickly, they dissolve, and soon they’re completely out of her mind’s reach, like she’s waking from a dream. Just like that, they’re gone.

All that’s left are the memories belonging to her, along with the dire predicament for which she must claim responsibility. Her friends. Lord English. This great nothingness. This savage wound in her chest. That...

That black hole.

She looks away from it. Quickly, reflexively, the way you turn away from a light source that’s too bright. The hole causes the same kind of discomfort to behold. It’s so dark it hurts. Yet it calls her.

Her hair spills around her like tentacles unfurling. She coils into a fetal position and runs her fingers along the edge of the shard in her chest. It sends pins and needles under her skin. It’s pure... negative potential. The absence of a future. The thing skewering her through right now is the space between breaths, between atoms. She tries to remove it but has trouble getting a grip on it. It fails to behave like a solid piece of matter, remains lodged within her stubbornly. It hurts, but she won’t finish dying. Not just yet.

She unfolds, blinking against the vast, empty light around her. Her memories crease as she moves, filling her mind with the knowledge of the last few hours. She’s sixteen, she thinks, trying to orient herself. And she just fought Lord English after being plucked out of a doomed timeline. At least, if you can even call what she did fighting. But what was that dream? It was significant, she’s knows that much. Dave and Karkat? Why did they jump into her mind as a unit? Earth C. What’s Earth C? Concepts collide, commingle. Two different understandings of her world knit into each other as easily as she takes her next breath. Urgency bleeds off her neural receptors, melts right out of her fingertips. She lets herself float, unmoored, carried along an ebb tide in space that only she can perceive.

She wonders if anyone else survived. She wants to see John.

She didn’t notice the moment she turned her gaze back toward the black hole. But now she couldn’t look away if she tried. In slow, hazy spirals, it beckons her. The longer she stares at it, the deeper she peers into the folds of infinite atrophy, and the louder it gets. Loud? She only now notices there is sound emanating from it, but not the kind physical ears can detect. The hole has a voice—one that becomes material the more the expanding black sphere dominates her senses.

Jade’s wound throbs. She hears the voice fill up the dark space between her ribs. It’s calling to her from the center of the death of everything. She kicks off her ruby red slippers, and drifts ever closer.

come.

What the fuck?

Forget I said that. Jade leans into her accelerating descent. She listens for another command. But the hole has seemingly said all it will. She considers asking who is speaking, but her mouth stays shut, powerless against the forces transfixing her. Jade has no way of knowing who this voice belongs to. She has no context for understanding the true nature of this being, what role she has played in bringing about the end, and how long she has been waiting for this. She has no idea. But I do.

The dead cherub is making her move.

We should get the fuck out of here. Let’s see what Dave’s up to, okay?

> ==>
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