Maryza stood in the middle of the Metropolitan’s great hall, the disheveled remnants of the Twins’ debauchery scattered about her, while Indovus bled out onto one of the carpets. She was shaking uncontrollably, and she couldn’t stop thinking. There was just so much in there. She felt drunk, but also incredibly alert. She doubted she could take a step without falling over, but she also knew she could count the exact number of threads on each tassel on the curtains from the corner of her eye.
“The Twins,” she mumbled, her twitching fingers crawling over her face. She sang, “The Twins are in my brain, the Twins are in my brain...” then devolved into a fit of giggling. “Maybe...” she continued to claw at her face, leaving long red scratches down her cheeks. “Maybe if I tear out my eyes, they can come out through the sockets!” She fell to her knees, and alternated between laughing and sobbing. “Oh, please,” she cried, falling over onto the floor, “please please please someone stop me from doing that. Someone please help me.” Then she felt gentle hands take a firm grip on her wrists. The madness subsided. She looked up and saw a familiar face smiling down at her. “Huxley?” she whispered. “No,” she shook her head. “No, I know what you are now. You’re Huxley, and not Huxley. You’re a... a...” She shook her head. “They knew things,” the hysteria crept into her voice. “They knew what you are, what your name is...” she began giggling again. “They won’t tell me. They can’t tell me. They’re dead, but they live in my brain, and now they’re going to burn it all down.” She laughed and sobbed. “They’re going to burn me all down...”
“Shh,” Gloriel lay a soothing hand on Maryza’s brow. “No one is going to burn today, Lady Commander. I won’t allow it.”
“You can help me?” Hope crept into Maryza’s voice along the edges of her madness.
“I can help you help yourself.” She lifted her former commander up off the floor as though she weighed nothing at all, and carried her to a desk and chair that had been shoved into a corner of the room. “You need paper,” Gloriel said, “and a pen that’s been enchanted to transcribe spells.”
Maryza shook her head. “I can’t,” she said, “I don’t have...”
“I know.” Gloriel thought a moment. “I know what you need. I will return shortly.”
Maryza clutched at her hand. “No! The crazy talk will come back! The Twins are making crazy talk in my head! I can’t get them out! I want them out!” She began slamming her head against the desk. “GET OUT!!”
Gloriel pulled Maryza to her and held her close. “No no no,” she crooned soothingly. “No, don’t do that. Don’t do that. You’ll be okay. I’m just going to go get something to help you. I’ll be gone the smallest of moments, then I’ll be back, and then we’ll get them out.”
Maryza nodded, sniffling.
“But no hurting yourself while I’m gone, okay?”
Another sniffle. “O-okay...”
Maryza nodded. “Promise.”
“Okay,” Gloriel said. “I’ll be right back.” She leaned over and kissed Maryza’s forehead.
Maryza smiled and relaxed in the chair. “Oooohhhh,” she touched the spot where she’d been kissed. “That’s nice...”
“It’ll keep you until I return.” Then Gloriel was gone.
True to her word, she was gone for only a moment, but Maryza had already begun to succumb to madness even in that short span of time.
“Maryza?” Gloriel approached the desk. Maryza sat slumped in the chair, her head lolling, a foamy drool running down her chin.
“Azel,” Maryza moaned. “Aaaaazzzzzelllllll.”
“Yes,” Gloriel said. She busied herself at the desk, setting up a typewriter and reams of paper. “Azel is coming, but you’re going to help fight him, okay?”
Maryza grinned up at her and said, “Pop!”
“What?” Gloriel tried to get her to look at the typewriter. “Here, Maryza, look. It’s Jax’s old typewriter, the one she used after Engine City. It’s still enchanted. What I want you to do... Maryza?”
Maryza was spinning around in the chair, giggling and crying. “Brain go pop! World go pop! Sun go pop! Everything go pop!” She stopped spinning and her head drooped, long hair falling in sweaty tangles to hide her face. She began to growl like an animal, grunting “Azel Azel Azel!” over and over. She looked up at Gloriel and smiled. “Azel comes, make it all go pop.” She turned and looked at Indovus’ body. “I killed him,” she laughed. “Killed him with a bottle!” She grew sad. “I should’ve killed me with a bottle. Could’ve... long ago... years ago...” She looked up, tears in her eyes. “He’s gone. My love is gone, my bard, my man... all gone all gone all gone...” She sighed and looked deep into Gloriel’s eyes. “You’re all gone too, but still here. But also gone. My fault.”
“Okay now,” Gloriel pushed the chair back toward the desk. “None of that kind of talk. Huxley’s here to help her Lady Commander.” She pointed at the typewriter, which had a fresh page inserted. “Type.”
“Type what?” Maryza seemed more lucid.
“The Twins,” Gloriel said. “Magic is energy and data, and you’ve absorbed so much of both. First, you’re going to type out every single thing you have in your head about the Twins. Put it all on paper.”
“Then?” Maryza studied the typewriter.
“Then the data will be gone,” Gloriel said. “It’s the data - everything that is and was the Twins - that’s driving you mad. Once that’s out, you’ll just have the energy.”
“And that’s good?” She tapped a key and jumped back slightly when it clicked.
“It will be. When your mind is clear, we can work on putting that energy to good use.”
“Okay.” Then Maryza began to type.
She typed for hours which turned into days. She typed without eating, without drinking, and without sleeping. She paused only to pull a finished page from the typewriter and replace it with a fresh one. Her fingertips turned raw, so that the keys of the typewriter were stained red, and each page was dotted with bloody fingerprints. Finally, she was finished
“Done,” she gasped, her voice a ragged whisper.
“Here,” Gloriel put a glass in her hand.
“Water. Drink. It’s been over two days.”
Maryza drank it down, grimacing at first as the water hit her parched throat. Then she drank another, and another, and still another. “Hungry,” she said at last.
“I’m certain,” Gloriel said, “but there will be time enough for that. You aren’t quite finished.” She pointed at the pile of typed pages. “Those pages hold everything there is and ever was about the Twins. Those pages essentially are the Twins.”
“What do we do with them?”
“You burn them.”
Maryza looked around. “There’s no fire.”
“Make one,” Gloriel shrugged. “It’s well within your ability in general. Now, with the energy at your disposal...”
Maryza looked down at the pages and they burst into flames. They burned quickly, and Maryza thought she heard a shriek as the last few bits of ash drifted up toward the ceiling.
“What now?” she asked.
Gloriel lifted Maryza and carried her to one of the couches, laid her down and covered her with a blanket. “Now,” she said, “you sleep. I’ll see to it there’s food waiting when you wake.”
“Food is good,” Maryza said, yawning, “but sleep is better. What happens once I’ve slept and eaten?”
Gloriel smiled. “Then you learn everything: what I am, the truth of the doom that approaches, and your role in what’s to come.”
Maryza nodded, blinking. “Okay,” she muttered. “But food first, right?”
“Sleep first,” Gloriel said with a smile, “then food, and then we talk.”
Maryza woke in a bed. The bed was in a large room, sparsely decorated, that she assumed was set aside for state visitors. Some remnants of the recent debauchery remained in the room - an empty bottle, a hookah, some underclothes - but for the most part, she didn’t see much evidence that this building had been a brothel until... she laughed.
“How long have a I slept?”
“Just a day or so,” a voice said from the doorway.
Maryza looked over and smiled. “Em!” When the old Metropolitan had died, Maryza’s old friend and Oracle had taken over. “I was worried about what had happened to you.”
Em returned the smile, but it was weak. “The Twins...” she shook her head and looked away. “They did something to me, gave me something, hid me away. I was a long time coming back. Fortunately, your friend was there to help me.”
“Huxley?” Maryza raised an eyebrow. Yet another question for her former second-in-command.
“Well now,” Gloriel said, appearing, as she often did, seemingly from nowhere. “Everyone back up to fighting strength?”
“And then some,” Maryza said, snapping her fingers. Sparks flew from her fingertips.
“Celestial,” Em sank to one knee, her eyes averted.
“Metropolitan,” Gloriel said, reaching out a hand to help her to rise. “Do not kneel to me. I am not one of the gods, merely their servant.”
“You are more than that,” Em said.
“And how do you know what I am, little Oracle?” Gloriel asked, smiling. “Yours is a somewhat narrow faith, if I recall.”
“When I was... indisposed,” Em cleared her throat, “I heard the voice of the Overgod constantly. He told me everything.” She shook her head. “Much of it I’ve forgotten, or never fully understood, but I know what you are. You are of the Celestia, first among those created by the Goddess Aael in this universe.” She turned and smiled at Maryza. “If not for you, they would not have existed at all.”
Maryza blinked. “What?” she asked. “If they were created first by the gods, then how could I have had anything to do with it?”
“Because the Celestia were not so created until you summoned me into this vessel,” Gloriel explained, gesturing at herself.
“Um,” was all Maryza could find to say.
“During that battle, years ago, when your dear friend lay dying in your lap, what did you seek?” Gloriel asked.
Maryza thought a moment. It had been some time since that day, and she’d spent many years making a point of not remembering it. Then she remembered. “The opposite of demons,” she said. “I remember I didn’t want to lose her, but I didn’t want her possessed by a demon either.”
Gloriel nodded. “Exactly. You summoned the opposite of demons to save the life of your friend. The thing is,” she said, “there was no opposite of demons, until you demanded one. Then, because of your magic, the desperation of your plea, the powers in play at the time...” she spread her arms.
“You were warned,” Em said.
“I still don’t understand,” Maryza said.
“The Overgod,” Em said. “He warned you that there would be a cost for what you did, and that you would not be the only one to pay it.”
“I remember,” Maryza said quietly.
“The world is now paying that cost, Maryza,” Gloriel said. “All of creation will pay it, because you demanded the opposite of demons.”
“The End of Days,” Gloriel said. “The Thrice-Damned One rises from his prison within a broken universe, and he will wreak destruction upon everything that exists. The Celestia are the opposite of demons, and so we had to come from somewhere, and that meant the demons had to come from somewhere. If we were opposite forces, we had to serve opposite forces.”
Maryza looked helplessly from Em to Gloriel.
“The gods of this world were never meant to be more than suggestions,” Gloriel explained. “Demons existed, but they were just monsters. They possessed the dead, due to spellwork, but they didn’t necessarily come from anywhere. They didn’t directly serve anyone.”
“And now,” Maryza said slowly, “because of what I did, with you,” she pointed at Gloriel, “that’s not the case anymore.”
“Exactly,” Gloriel said. “You unlocked the mythology of this universe, and it has echoed back through eternity, to the very dawn of time itself.”
“Prior to that,” Em said, “there were gods and goddesses, who were worshipped or not, as people chose, but they weren’t really that important. Well, there was always the Overgod, but...”
“But he’s different,” Gloriel said, “and, frankly, part of the problem.”
“How so?” Maryza asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gloriel waved the question away. “He’s not a part of the problem you can deal with.”
“So there is a part I can deal with?” Maryza asked, relieved.
“Of course,” Gloriel said. “You have the power stolen from a pair of Harbingers. You have a well-trained army. I will return you to your own seat of power, and I will gather more of my kind. When the time comes, we will strike as one.”
“We can prevent the End of Days?”
“No,” Gloriel shook her head, “but we can do our best to ensure there are new days to follow.”
“What of me?” Em asked. “After what happened, what I suffered at the hands of the Twins, my time in their chemical fog...” she shook her head again. “I can no longer be the Oracle, and I am not sure I want to be the Metropolitan anymore.”
“You must stay here,” Gloriel said. “Metropolitan, Oracle, it doesn’t matter. The old titles and powers and politics will mean little and nothing in the End of Days, but your people have suffered, and they need a leader.” She lay a hand on Em’s shoulder. “Be that leader for them, in whatever way you can.”
“Come, Maryza,” Gloriel said, holding out her hand, “and do not despair. We will set things as right as we can, and take heart in knowing we are not the only ones.”
“Jax,” Maryza smiled.
“She has a part to play,” Gloriel said as Maryza took her hand, “and, as tends to happen with her, that part will be both vital and prominent. But there are others who may do even more for the future of this world, for all that their actions are noted by a few.”
Then they were gone, leaving a broken woman to repair her shattered city.