“A bar, a casino, and a smithy, all within a couple miles of each other,” Lusu said, droll as always, one hand on the wheel, the other dangling from the car window. “Just how do you people live?”
“Well,” Sue said, sitting next to Lusu, acting as navigator, “because of those very things you just mentioned.”
“If you can’t drink, gamble, and shoot, what can you do?” The Hero asked.
“Love,” I said. “Live. Read a good book. Figure out some way to become better than a goddamn animal.”
The Hero looked at me, then at Lusu. “What the hell’s her problem?”
“Too many to list,” Lusu said. “It’s been a rough couple weeks.”
Lusu was right, in a way. It had been a damn rough couple of weeks. Ever since Val had killed Stellavia. Why? Why had I opened this damn can of worms again?
But I’d been like this for a long time — almost my whole life — never knowing what to say or what to do, uncomfortable around other living things. What was the use of small chat, when the whole damn universe was going to hell?
We spent the rest of the car ride in silence.
— — —
Demersi lay face down in the dirt, the back of his helmet shattered, his spacesuit worn and worthless, his whole body ready to wither, his whole life nothing but a story to be forgotten and retold, mistakes fabricated and fermented, until the lies became more real than the man.
Demersi’s right arm was outstretched, palm in the dirt like he was reaching for something. His body lay just a few feet away from a Ford Thunderbird — a beautiful car, if it mattered.
“Dammit,” Sue said, chewing on a cigar.
There wasn’t much else to say, was there?
I took out a cigarette. “Fiat lux,” I said, snapping so that a spark flew from my fingers and onto my cigarette. I let the smoke fill my lungs. Then I blew it out.
I crouched down, taking a closer look at Demersi. He had wild signs scrawled all across his suit, though I’d be damned if I could decipher them. Fire engulfed by leaves. A dragon weaving its way across his body. An opened doorway, with all the light pouring out.
I’d met Demersi, during my adventures with Val. In a twisted way, he’d called me a friend. It was sad to see him like this.
“Anybody know what all this is supposed to mean?” I asked the group.
We all grew quiet. I guess we were a quiet bunch.
I grabbed Demersi’s left arm. The space suit felt unnaturally cold. It wasn’t hard, but it was tough. I pulled the arm up and over, turning Demersi around.
I thought I’d be able to see Demersi’s face, but I only saw blood. It caked the inside of the helmet. There was a small bullet-sized hole that blood had been oozing out of for who knows how long. I looked to see where the bullet had gone.
A small, bullet-sized hole in the dirt. I took a closer look at it. Looked deep.
Stuck my finger in it. Still deeper. Pushed some of the dirt away. The hole was deeper. Stuck my finger in it again, but I wasn’t able to find the bottom.
“Let’s go inside,” Sue said.
I thought that was a good idea, so I got up. The three of us made our way to the casino, passing under the neon sign, its flashing lights signifying the words, “Demersi’s Sins.”
I opened the door, not liking what I saw.
Darkness, marred by a sliver of light.
It had the feeling of something terrible — feeling in the darkness and sensing that something was in there. Something was in there, and it shouldn’t be in there.
“Oh, god,” Jewell muttered, under her breath. The sliver of light that got through to the casino illuminated nothing more than a patch of carpet. But something slipped out of the darkness: a trickle of blood.
Take a breath, I told myself. It’s nothing more than a speck.
Breathed out, reaching out to my right, that damned hand looking for a bit of light. Groping, I had trouble finding it. My fingers crawled across the wall, and then I found it. Grabbed onto the switch and flicked it.
They’re all dead, I thought. Hell, I saw it. They were all dead. About 20 people, spread across the casino, some of them lying on the floor, some of them collapsed onto the game tables.
Suddenly I noticed a man, standing over the roulette wheel. A second man lay on the wheel. The living man smiled, spinning it.
“Have you ever wondered if you matter?” a voice sang, booming through the loudspeakers. “Have you ever wondered if other people cared? / Have you ever wondered if your struggles meant something? / Don’t worry, I’m here to tell you. I’m your master.”
I could hear Jewell and The Hero unsheathe their swords. Sue took out a small gun. Lusu had her hands outstretched, ready for magic.
Then there was me. Me? I was just scared.
“One bullet,” the voice said, speaking instead of singing. “I did all of this with just one bullet. Isn’t that amazing?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lusu smirk.
“Amazing for a psychopath,” Sue replied.
A bullet whipped through the air. A flash of crimson, and then another. Two bodies collapsed to the floor, almost simultaneously.
Jewell and Sue, dead.
The bullet would have had to make a sharp turn in mid-air to hit both of them like that.
I looked at the doorway on the other end of the room. It was marred by a small, bullet-shaped hole, one that I didn’t remember seeing earlier. The man continued to spin the roulette wheel, laughing.
“Shit,” The Hero muttered. He re-sheathed his sword, then put his hands in the air. “I’ve fought a lot of fights,” he said. “I know I can’t win this one.”
“Glad to hear it,” the voice on the speaker said. “That’s the problem with sentience, isn’t it? We fight and we fight. We struggle and we maim and we kill others for dominance. But we never win, do we?”
Silence. An awful, strangling silence. Nothing left but the soft laughter of the man who kept spinning the roulette wheel.
Finally, after far too long had passed, I said, “You want an answer?”
He didn’t say anything.
So I spoke, instead. “I’ll never win, until I die. I want to die.”
The man at the roulette wheel stopped laughing.
“I’ve wanted to die for a long time,” I yelled, across the void, “but I haven’t. I’ve wanted to die for a long time, you see? I have all sorts of reasons for that — most of them personal, not really relevant right here and now. Point is, I want to die.”
“What do you want me to do about it?” the voice on the speaker said, sounding meaker. “Do you want me to kill you?”
“Yes,” I said. “I want you to kill me.”
“I get the hesitation,” I said. “It’s hard to kill someone, when you get an extra moment to really think about it. With that gun of yours, it doesn’t seem so bad. Pull the trigger, then bang. It’s done, and you don’t even have to get your hands dirty. But then you really think about killing someone. When you think about the life that was there, that you just eliminate? When you think about the little piece of the world you just killed? It becomes hard.”
“Here’s why I want you to kill me,” I said. “I’ve been here too long. I’ve seen too many awful things, and the few good things in this world are probably far behind me. I forget what it feels like to be created. I forget what it feels like to not constantly be hounded by Death.”
“Here’s why you shouldn’t kill me,” I said. “I’m the ma– I’m the thing that’s going to save the world. I don’t want to have that responsibility — in all honesty, you killing me would free me of the responsibility. I’d like that. But there’s a reason I have to do this. There’s a reason I have to stop the world from getting destroyed. I can’t think of what it even is — I can’t imagine why I’d save lives when I want to get rid of my own, but truth is, that’s what I’m going to do. So you can kill me, right here and now. But just know that when you kill me, you kill the world.”
Finally, he said, “It was hard when Hostem tried to kill us all. Made me think.”
“Made me think, too,” I said.
“You think you have a purpose,” Diamond said, “but then it turns out you don’t. You want to make up some new purpose for your life, but you can’t. It’s just you, waiting to die. Why didn’t we let Hostem just kill us all? If he felt like we’d outlived our purpose, why didn’t we listen to him?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “If that’s how you feel, why haven’t you killed yourself?”
He sighed. “I don’t know. It just didn’t seem right. I wanted to be sure. I didn’t know what to do. How can you know what to do, when this world is so damn…” He stopped talking.
“I know,” I said. “I envy you.”
“Envy me?” He laughed. “How the hell could you envy me? Is it because I have power now? Is it because I have the gun? What does it even matter, in this stupid fucked up world?”
I looked over at Lusu and The Hero. It sure mattered to them.
“I envy you because you can kill yourself,” I said. “You don’t have anything left to live for, you don’t like the world around you. No more responsibilities, so you can kill yourself. Me? I’m holding on. I’m holding on by a goddamned thread, but believe it or not I’m holding on. Because I’m guilty. Because I need to make up for all the things I’ve done.”
“I’ve done a lot of bad things,” he said. Looking at the room, I believed him.
“I’ve done worse,” I said. “But you? You can let go.”
“I want to let go,” he said.
“You can,” I said. “You can kill yourself.”
“That gun of yours? It can do anything,” I said. “From what I’ve seen, the bullets can arc through the air, right? You can shoot yourself in the head three times if you want — make sure it’s all over for good. You have the power, and that’s what you want.”
“It’s what I want.”
“I envy you.”
“I’m…” he said, “in an enviable position.”
“So do it,” I said.
“You and I are similar, in that we so hate this world. So I want you to do it. I want to live through you — to die through you. I want you to kill yourself.”
“I want you to find peace.”
After a second, the bullet broke through the door, whizzing through the air and through the head of the guy at the roulette wheel. He fell to the floor, dead.
Breathe in, breathe out. You’re still alive.
Footsteps from behind.
I turned around and saw The Angel of Death, mechanical wings unfurled, red eye glowing in the light of day. She wore a small knapsack.
“Quite the charmer,” The Angel of Death said. “You always were one of my favorite humans.”
My cheeks felt red. I kept my gaze on the ground.
“What happened here?” she asked.
“Where’d you get the new wings?” I asked.
She bent over, opening Jewell’s mouth and sticking her arm in.
“Alright then,” she said, arm deep in Jewell’s mouth. “I suppose we’ll both keep our secrets.”
She pulled Jewel’s soul out.
— — —
Lusu, The Hero, and I walked towards the car. I carried the revolver. It was heavy — felt cold in my hands. It’s handle had gotten stained by a bit of blood, and hard as I tried I couldn’t wipe it off.
“Apologies, Hero,” Lusu said, “but we don’t have the time to drive you back to Jewell’s Damned.”
“Sure we do,” I said.
“No,” Lusu said. “We don’t.”
“Val’s going to destroy the world,” I said. “What better place to wait that out than at the bar?”
She got in my face. “You just told a man to kill himself because you’re on a mission. Now you’re telling me we’re no longer on that mission?”
“That’s not why I told him to kill himself,” I said.
I continued, “Val’s too far away at this point. Between my jail time and the time it took to get this gun, he’s too far away. We won’t catch up to him in time.”
“You’re not going to try?” The Hero asked.
The gun really did gleam in the light of day. I weighed it with one hand, then aimed it at a nearby tree.
“No,” I said. “Sometimes life deals you a shitty hand, and that’s that. No use fighting it.”
Lusu slapped me. Stung my cheek. “That’s not an acceptable answer.”
I looked at her. “This isn’t my nihilism talking. It’s just the truth. We tried to save the world, but we lost. Heck, I’m part of the reason it’s kept spinning for these past forty years. But now? Forget about it. It’s all over and done.”
“It’s not,” she said. “Death Cult’s only a couple miles from here.”
“What are you–” I began.
She cut me off: “I can get them to kill Val.”