Elsewhere, below the horizon...
The distant sounds of war travel above the canopy of a forest. The artillery fire fades to a series of muted knocks and thuds as the sound waves cross beyond a thinning patch of the forest and arrive in a clearing of grass and shrubbery. Above, the sky is dramatic, colorful, menacing. The way it looks when a storm is coming. The clouds are wild, whipped into a sort of spatial frenzy, as if they know what’s imminent is no earthly phenomena. Aradia stands in the field, her mouth gaping wide. But not at the sky.
It’s unusual she isn’t grinning, and she slowly corrects this. She smiles brightly at the girl crouching on the ground ten paces before her. Aradia’s never seen anything like what she just saw this girl do.
Jade was sixteen years old when she showed up, and she doesn’t look a day older now, though many hundreds of days have passed. There’s a hole piercing the Space symbol on her shirt, but no sign of whatever it was that made it. Her legs are covered by the same striped tights as usual, but her feet are shoeless. Her knees are pressed into the mud of the field, and her hands braced against the ground to support her hunched figure. She is covered in blood almost from head to toe.
Fresh blood and viscera surround her in an uneven ring on the field. It soaks her clothes, coats her skin, still gleaming and wet, running slowly down her limbs and face, dripping from her mouth, glasses, and the tip of her nose. Her hair is matted, savage-looking, filthy. She looks up. Behind the rim of her glasses, her wide eyes are solid black. Her lips are parted, revealing her canine fangs. The meat she’s chewing is stubborn, raw, full of gristle. Almost supernaturally tough. But she is a determined beast of prey. She swallows once, hard. The last bit of her meal slides down her throat. The deed is finished.
She stands up and closes her eyes. An aura of darkness gathers around her. The blood begins to dissolve, as if being absorbed into her skin. She makes two fists, plants her feet firmly, and releases an otherworldly howl. A shock wave emanates from her body, knocking Aradia down. It rushes outward, blowing the surrounding trees back as if they’re weathering hurricane-force winds. In a moment, calm is restored. She opens her perfectly black eyes again.
Aradia staggers back to her feet and brushes herself off.
ARADIA: i take it everything went as you hoped
Jade looks down at her hands as if they belong to an alien. She can feel it now. Abilities have been awakened inside her that no being has ever commanded before. She raises her hands and looks up at the sky. Above her, an immense vortex opens. It swirls many miles upward into blackness, and lightning crackles within.
Jade does nothing for a while. She seems to simply study the construct she’s summoned, this great occult trumpet beckoning her into its abyss. Her face is expressionless. Her glasses flash white as they reflect the lightning that arcs sporadically inside the wormhole.
ARADIA: arent you going in
ARADIA: wasnt that the idea or did i not...
Jade silently holds up a hand, as if telling her to wait. Aradia closes her mouth, looking embarrassed.
Nearby, a red haze gathers in the air. It condenses into concentric rings and spheres of ruby light. The luminous shape of a man fades into the center of the special effect. When the light subsides, Aradia notices the man is made of polished metal. She recognizes the gear symbol on his chest, identical to her own. She also recognizes the sunglasses the robot is wearing. She knows who this is.
He doesn’t look in Aradia’s direction. His eyes, glowing bright enough to be visible behind his shades, are fixed on Jade. He looks her up and down. She’s still so young. He knew this Jade many years ago, but by this point their paths have diverged in ways that he couldn’t begin to describe even if he wanted to.
Jade says nothing, and looks up into the wormhole again. She begins to levitate, gradually picking up speed. Without looking back, she rockets into the vortex, vanishing into the darkness. Davebot turns to Aradia.
DAVEBOT: how about you
DAVEBOT: wanna come along
ARADIA: i guess so?
ARADIA: im really not sure whats going on here
ARADIA: to be honest the plan wasnt discussed much
DAVEBOT: thats what were doing now
DAVEBOT: discussin the plan
DAVEBOT: what about your boy
ARADIA: oh sollux is in one of his moods
ARADIA: this was all getting to be a bit much for him
ARADIA: if i go ill probably just cut him loose
DAVEBOT: good move
His gaze remains fixed on her. She blinks and looks away, unsure what to say next. He’s standing perfectly still, presumably waiting for her to say something. She met him... what was it? Once, twice before? She can’t remember. But she knows this is a very different Dave. Aside from the metal skin, he seems implacably confident. But then, people go through changes. She’s been through more than her share. She cocks an eyebrow, recalling her own stint with a metal body.
DAVEBOT: hey earth to whats your face
ARADIA: its aradia
DAVEBOT: i know
DAVEBOT: so thats a yes then
DAVEBOT: youre coming
DAVEBOT: better decide quick i doubt that dank fuckin hell funnel is staying open for much longer
ARADIA: yes i suppose so
ARADIA: thats where all the action is right?
DAVEBOT: all the action that matters yeah
ARADIA: off we go then :)
He holds out his hand. She looks around, and assumes he means for her to take it, so she does. She didn’t know someone could fly this fast. He nearly yanks her arm out of its socket. She considers reminding him that maybe this isn’t necessary, since she can fly too. But she doesn’t want to risk saying more embarrassing stuff around this outrageously cool dude. Besides, they’re through the wormhole before she can even finish the thought. It vanishes the moment they’ve crossed.
The hole leaves behind an absence in the sky so calm that continuing to call it a sky wouldn’t seem to do it justice. It’s a perfectly neutral expanse into which anything one can imagine might be summoned. And for a while, anything was. But not anymore. Where the hole gaped just moments ago, there now exists an imaginary line.
Above this line resides all that matters. Below exists all else. Never again the twain shall meet.