Book 5, 30: Built of Bones
“So,” Charlotte said, carefully. “This is the other side of time and space.” She gestured at the box of golden light set in the middle of a three-sixty Milky Way, only a million times brighter.
“Unh-hunh,” Dora answered. She sounded distracted.
“Rose says that that means the Big Crunch is true.”
“Could be,” Dora said. She was obviously looking for something.
“Rose also says the Moon is made of green cheese.”
“Unh-hunh,” Dora said.
“And I have doubts about that blouse you were wearing at the mall.”
“What?” Dora said. “What doubts? The belt totally accessorised it.”
“So now you’re listening to me.”
“Yes, yes, I’m listening. With the part of me that isn’t scared as crap for you, Char-Char. This is not a place for people made of matter, y’know. I have the needfire to sustain me, but all you have is me.”
“Actually,” said a strange voice in Charlotte’s head, which would have completely freaked her out if it wasn’t kind of an everyday thing by this point, “You may underestimate your friend, somewhat. With full mastery, the Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu would sustain her even here.”
Charlotte looked, aghast, at the incredibly complicated multi-rope skipping sequence she had ever seen or could have imagined, only with skip-ropes were transparent and glowed. She’d never seen one this complicated, but she was reasonably sure that it wouldn’t be able to talk. “Something for her to aim for in a few hundred years.”
“Dirac Delta Transform!” Dora said in surprise. “I didn’t know you were going to be here today! Charlotte! This is DDT! She’s so cool!”
“She?“ Charlotte asked.
“I’m not calling DDT ‘It.’ It would be rude. And she’s way too cool to be a boy.”
A shiver went through the ropes, as though DDT was shrugging the issue off. “Yes, in some of the sheaf of possibilities, this universe ends with the Big Crunch, the Big Band in reverse, and the end is as the beginning, and what you see here: the morning of creation is as its night. But that is not a very useful thing to say, when what we do here is primordial.”
“Which is fight the Shining Darkness?” Charlotte guessed.
Again, the ropes of light shivered as they waved and spun. “So much is trivial. The Ravens of Dispersion raid the beginnings of things for the energy they need to sustain them in the Pale Cathedral; but only because we call them.”
“Did I ever mention the part about being a lure?” Dora asked. “Because that’s what we are. Little time-travelly knots of entropic decay-reversing goodness that the Ravens smell and come for. Which is why I’m kind of worried for you. Say, Char-Char. You can’t turn yourself into a complex wave form in a naturally bounded plasma region, like DDT here, can you?”
“Darn! I’m taking that class next week! So, uhm, why are we doing this, exactly?”
“The Ravens come, we grab ‘em, and the Big Guy rips out their souls and ascends them, and uses their anti-entropic bodies to coalesce artefacts. It’s the only structure can exist at this point in the universe, and the only way to make Elder Sigils.”
“You mean, like yours? If they’re so important, should the Emperor of Babylon really be able to hand them out as presents because he thinks you’re a nice kid?”
“Don’t worry,” Dora said, actually shading her eyes as though that would help.
Charlotte gave her friend the side-eye. As John Roy described it, this age of the universe, was basically like being inside the core of an exploding hydrogen bomb. She was pretty sure that shading your eyes wouldn't help. Also, “Big Guy? That can’t mean. . . ”
The universe around her seemed to wave back.
“No, no, not God,” Charlotte said. “More like . . . Lilith, I guess? The demon lady in the Garden of Eden who made herself? Structures don’t last very long in this soup, but every structure ever possible exists here, now, until it stops existing, and one of those is a . . . life without rules, I think? The first living being in the universe, anyway. Only not really living, because it’s self created? I dunno.” Dora waved her hand over her head. “Totally blows right by me. Anyway, the Big Guy takes the Ravens, and time travellers, and uses them to make Sigils. And other stuff. Stuff that makes Sigils look like toys.”
“Be alert!” DDT shouted in their minds. “They—“ And the skip ropes were gone.
“Darn! Crafty one! Didn’t surface!” Dora yelled. “Come on, we’ve got to get DDT back!”
“Back from where?” Charlotte asked.
Dora looked over at her friend and sighed. “The Pale Cathedral. Come on! She's got the Star of Ulthor!”
And just like that, they were standing on a plane of white that Charlotte could only compare with a sheet of paper. A sheet of paper that was really cold, and in a scary way that got right into your bones, like the kind of cold Charlotte remembered from Christmas a few years ago, when it got down to -25.”
Dora grabbed her by the hand and waved at a pale yellow blot in the distance. “Move it!” She yelled. “We won’t make it five minutes here unless we get inside.”
Charlotte moved, and the pale yellow blot got much closer, much faster, than it should have by normal rules. As it got closer, she made out its form: a big building of high walls and the kind of windows that ought to have stained glass in them, and steeples and point roofs. Like a church, only bigger.
If churches were made of bones, that is. “Crap! Charlotte shouted! “This isn’t the King of Ivory’s palace, is it?” She remembered not to say ‘Takofanes,’ even as dread gripped her stomach. Please don’t let my Dad be here, she thought. Please, I . . . “ She actually didn’t know what the rest of that thought would be.
“No! Give it a rest! At least ‘till we get DDT back!”
Charlotte looked over at her friend. On the one hand, Dora sounded pretty angry at her, and Charlotte was offended. On the other hand, and more importantly, her friend seemed really attached the math-function-in-plasma. Which settled that. The Pearl Harmony Sword sprang into her hand, and Charlotte’s numbed shoulder hit the bone plated door of the cathedral with the suddenness of dream movement, and she was inside.
In a echoing hall of bones, a raven’s head perched on the skeleton of something awful, from which tatters of something worse hung loose, pecked at Charlotte.
Without even considering, Charlotte entered the Iron Phoenix stance, sword forward. It just seemed like the right response to a bird-headed Dementor. The Raven came at her around the sword, of course, and Charlotte was perfectly positioned to bring grab it by its least yucky appendage and send it into Dora as she entered the Cathedral behind Charlotte.
Gristly, gory bones came flying by Charlotte. Teamwork!
“You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Dora asked.
“No!” Charlotte said. “But it worked, didn’t it?”
Dora shrugged. “Yeah, good thing.” She gestured forward. “They’ll try to eat DDT at the altar.”
“Say not more,” Charlotte said, as she jumped up on the back row of pews and began to run on them towards the far front of the cathedral.
Sure enough, two more of the bird-heads on skeletons were holding onto either end of straining, wiggling, glowing ropes that was DDT.
“Quick!” Dora shouted. We have to get out of here before more come!
Space worked more normally inside the Cathedral than outside, and it was a big building, but Charlotte could be quick if she wanted. And right now she did. Too bad her horse was. .
Tellus was there, and Charlotte threw onto into her stallion’s bare back without a thought. As might be suggested by his ability to cross space and time to be where he was needed, Tellus was not an entirely normal horse, and was perfectly capable of running on the backs of pews. In seconds, Charlotte was sweeping down on the two Ravens holding DDT, poised to slash the one on the left into oblivion.
“No!” Dora yelled. “We have to bring it back with us! Lift it off the ground!”
Charlotte shifted stances to thrust, and the point of the Pearl Harmony Sword smashed into the yellow spine bones of the Raven in the same moment that a glowing ball of needfire took the one on the right.
For a long second, two Ravens floated in mid-not-air, a few loose bones flying free. And then the writhing ropes that were DDT expanded for a moment to fill the entire Cathedral.
Screeches erupted behind Charlotte. She knew without even looking that more Ravens had arrived; but already the gloomy hall of bones was fading away, giving place to the golden box in the middle of the Milky Way. They’d made it. Charlotte assumed. Frankly, she had less of an idea what was going on here than she did at the end of the last Terminator movie.
Gravity, Charlotte realised, only worked for some people here. She realised it watching the loosely flopping skeletons that had been (were?) Ravens of Dispersion fall up, and right through the golden ceiling, and be surrounded by a haze of soft light, and vanish.
Yeah. Good thing I’m not a Raven of Dispersion, Charlotte thought, and shivered at more than the memory fo the draining cold of the Pale Cathedral.
She dismounted, as Tellus nuzzled Dora and –somehow, DDT.
“Good horse,” The vast, distant voice echoed in her head.
“You. . . like horses?” Charlotte asked.
“I have a great fondness for all the small and quiet things of your late and distant times. You do so much, with so little, it amazes me. The only thing with the speed of thought and memory that I would normally recognise as life in your assemblage is your phone, and it cannot even really muster consciousness. And yet here you are, ready to use hand-to-hand combat against anti-entropic creatures in a realm of pure metaphor.”
“Uhm, metaphor?” Charlotte said. “Like, that wasn’t real? I was kung-fu fighting something’s imagination?” She turned to Dora. “You know, you could have told me.”
Dora shrugged. “It’s all knew to me. I’ve never teleported anyone here before.”
“Yeah, you said. That you’ve never teleported before.”
“I don’t usually get here by teleporting. The needfire opens a gate. I --I guess that’s a pretty technical distinction, but it means I only come here when the needfire summons, and the only place I can do it is here.”
“Before you tried to get into Goblin Deep, you mean.”
Dora did the I-don’t-know shrug. “I guess Goblin Deep is even weirder than I thought.”
“What, you don’t know?”
Dora shrugged again. “I’m not on the need-to-know list any more than you are.”
“Children,” DDT said. “Time travel is allowed here by a greater dispensation, and causality is tied into a pleasing knot by the kind regard of the One Who Walks Before Death-in-Life. Be glad, but not surprised, if your destiny is entrained in the events of this day. It’s rare enough for we poor mortal beings to seize any meaning out of our existence, and if there is kindness in things, it lies in that.”
From the ceiling, something fell, to round and ring on the golden floor. Tellus placed a nimble hoof on it, and it spun upwards, so that Charlotte caught it, reflexively, before her eyes.
It was an Elder Sigil, with a pin on the back. Wow, Charlotte thought. God or Lilith or Adam or whoever was giving her a brooch. “Thank you,” she said, as politely as she could.
“Our destiny?” Dora asked. “Because, frankly, to me, this feels more like another day at the office. It’s Charlotte who’s macking on a guy who hangs with elves and who had the big epiphany about her Daddy issues!”
“I what?” Charlotte sputtered.
“Your friend refers to the way that your love for your father, and your need for his approval, led you to make a terrible mistake a year ago.” DDT paused. “For such low-energy creatures, you certainly have complicated emotional lives. It makes me happy that I was generated by the gravitational lensing of a supernova.”
Charlotte barely heard the winsome space-gobbledygook. Because she was too busy being punched in the stomach by the sneak attack of uncomfortable frankness. “No! That’s not it!”
And then, in the glorious hot plasma energy of the Big Bang, where she only existed as a metaphor. The simile of Charlotte analogically put her hands to her imaginary face and cried, great wracking tears of guilt and shame and self-loathing, and her friend pulled her close, and cried, too.