37 - Armageddon

Caliburn's Uzi chattered as it sent a trio of bullets down the corridor. With every burst one of the charging horde of horrors fell but there were more behind. Cataclysm sent a torrent of flame down another hallway, slowing but not stopping the army advancing towards them. Dr. Ka melted out of a pool of shadow in a corner and pointed down yet another passage. "This way," he cried. "We are nearly there."

Ironclad roared and broke through the line of Trey King monstrosities blocking their path. Dr. Ka quickly moved up to join him, his mace joining Ironclad's sword as they pushed their way further into the temple. Defender provided support, firing past them to take out the larger targets he could sight. Caliburn and Cataclysm backed down the corridor after them, both continuously firing to keep the seemingly endless horde of demonic figures back.

They made steady progress towards the ritual chamber and Cataclysm couldn't help but be bothered by it. Yelling to be heard over the noise of battle she said, "Is it me or is this too easy?"

Caliburn tossed his Uzi aside and it faded away before it hit the ground. He held his hands out and an M16A1 assault weapon appeared. He sighted down the barrel and fired a burst before saying, "You have a funny definition of the word 'easy'." He fired two more bursts and then added, "But you're right. They are herding us. Cutting off our retreat."

Cataclysm called up a cloud of flame at the intersection, catching at least a dozen horrors in the holocaust. "No problem. Hadn't planned to retreat."

He grunted and said, "Yeah, but I don't like doing what the enemy expects. Bad tactics."

They reached the end of the hallway where a heavy ironbound door blocked their way. Ironclad bellowed and smashed the door with all of his strength. It cracked. He hit it again and the hinges gave way. He tore the door out of its frame and threw it into the room. They entered the ritual chamber, Ironclad standing in the doorway to hold off the advancing Trey Kings.

The massive chamber was walled in dark stone and lit by a eclectic combination of open flames and electric lamps mounted on the stone pillars that held up the vaulted ceiling. The walls were inscribed in arcane symbols Cataclysm recognized as protection wards. In the middle of the floor she saw an elaborate summoning circle. Spaced equally around the circle were four huge metal braziers and floating above each of them was one of the Elemental Gems. Standing at the far side the circle was Valerian Scarlet, dressed in dark robes. She wasn't surprised at the intrusion. "Looking for these?" she asked innocently, gesturing to the gems. "The Elemental Gems make a nice set, don't they?"

Defender stepped forward. Defiantly he said, "We need those gems if we're going to stop the Apocalypse!"

Valerian laughed at him. "And you five think you can take them from me? I have a surprise for you, little heroes. This time I brought backup!" She chanted a few words of power. Energies coursed from the stones to meet in the middle where they swirled around each other in a blinding display.

"She's opening the portal!" Caliburn cried. "We have to stop her."

With anger in his voice, Defender said, "Valerian, we're not going to let you kill anyone else!" and leapt to the attack. Cataclysm moved to join him but Caliburn grabbed her arm.

"I don't have the power to keep that portal closed on my own," he said. "I need your connection to Fire to supplement my magic."

"I have other priorities," she said, shaking off his arm.

He stepped in front of her and snarled, "Look, punk, I figure you're just some selfish hothead who doesn't care about anything but herself. But Witchcraft sees...saw something more in you. If you're going to step up then you need to do it now. Because if Therakiel gets out, then we are all doomed. Now help me with this spell!"

Cataclysm glared at him. She glanced over at Valerian Scarlet who was battling Defender and Dr. Ka. Ironclad was holding the doorway against the hordes of Trey Kings trying to get in. She looked back at Caliburn as her mind raced. "Shit," she said emphatically. "Fine!"

Caliburn started his counterspell, trying to keep the portal from opening. This was magic well beyond what Cataclysm had learned, but she wasn't here for her portal spell knowledge. She was here for pure power, a living battery that he could use to fuel his own magic. Maybe, just maybe, the two of them together would be strong enough to keep the portal closed and keep Therakiel trapped.

She tore open the Fire Rift and began feeding energy to Caliburn. At first she did him no good. She hadn't worked on a joint spell like this other than a few times in the danger room with Witchcraft. It didn't help that she disliked Caliburn either as it made it hard for her to link to him. However with time she saw the pattern and between that and his barked orders, she slowly brought her casting in sync with his. He was able to tap into the power of the Plane of Fire and the portal stopped expanding. Then, very slowly, it started to shrink.

Cataclysm was dimly aware of the sound of battle but did her best to ignore it. She was surprised when she heard Valerian Scarlet call her name. "Aren't you going to play with me?" she taunted.

"Ignore her," Caliburn said through gritted teeth. Sweat poured down his face as he fought to close the portal.

Cataclysm spared Valerian a glance, being careful to maintain her concentration. Scarlet was backed into a corner, Defender and Dr. Ka working to keep her away from the others so she couldn’t interfere with the ritual. "Does Witchcraft's life mean so little to you?" Valerian called to her. "Don't you want your vengeance?"

"She's baiting you," Caliburn said. "She knows we can close this."

Cataclysm knew he was right but her anger, already high because it fueled her magic, was growing. Valerian said, "You know, Therakiel can bring her back." Cataclysm didn't even bother sneering at her. Did the woman really think Cataclysm would switch sides over such an empty promise? But that wasn't Valerian's tactic. "I think I'll have him revive her so I can kill her again," she said. "Much more painfully this time."

Cataclysm could feel herself slipping. The flow of energy sputtered and Caliburn cursed. "Dammit, don't play her game! We're almost done."

"You were too weak to save her," Valerian called out.

"Shut her up!" Caliburn roared at the other two.

Valerian wasn't attacking anymore. All her energy was put into keeping the two heroes off her so she could continue to goad Cataclysm. "Or maybe you just don't care. You never really cared about Witchcraft, right? That's why you let her die."

The anger flared and Cataclysm was halfway across the room before she even realized she'd moved. All the energy she had been feeding to Caliburn was redirected towards Valerian Scarlet. The explosion of flame blasted Dr. Ka and Defender back and pinned Valerian Scarlet against the wall. Cataclysm was vaguely aware of Caliburn yelling at her but she couldn't hear anything he said, couldn't see anything but Scarlet. She poured fire into the corner where the woman was trapped, walking ever closer to her. Valerian Scarlet was surrounded by a storm of white-hot flame but all Cataclysm heard was the woman laughing victoriously.

Cataclysm finally forced her fury down and stopped the stream of fire. Valerian, or at least what was left of her, stood against the corner for a moment before slowly collapsing to the floor in a smoking pile. To Cataclysm's surprise the horribly burned woman turned her head to look at her. "He'll save me," Valerian said weakly, the triumph audible even in her rough whisper. "Who will save you?"

Cataclysm stared down at her, paralyzed by her disgust at what she had done. Her self-loathing was interrupted by an enormous crack of thunder. She turned to see the ball of energy had expanded into a shimmering doorway. From out of the portal strode a figure, a study in contrasts. His left half was a physically perfect human form, so beautiful it nearly brought her to tears. But his right half was the shattered and rotting body of a corpse, just as perfect in its gruesomeness. He had wings, the left strong and covered in white feathers and the right bare, broken and rotting. The figure held a finely crafted sword and shadows danced along its blade.

"Behold!" the figure cried in a voice that shook her to her bones. "Therakiel the Bright walks the earth."

Cataclysm could feel the power radiating off him but she wasn't going to go down without a fight. She started up a spell but broke off as someone grabbed her and pulled her behind a pillar. She turned to attack but stopped when she saw it was Defender. "We haven't much time!" he said. "You must go to Juryrig! Tell him it is time for Plan C!"

"What?" she said in confusion. "I can't leave now. You can't beat him without me."

Defender put his hand on her shoulder. "We will fight bravely but we cannot beat him, even with your help! We can hold him long enough for you and Juryrig to do what must be done! Trust that we will not give our lives cheaply!" He pushed something into her hand and said, "You are the only one who can reach him! You can travel through fire and break through the siege!" He saluted her and said, "Good luck, hero!" before joining the others in the battle against Therakiel.

Cataclysm stood there with her mouth open. She didn't realize Defender know about her work with Witchcraft learning to travel through the Plane of Fire between any two flames. She had done it only a few times, and never traveled more than about five feet.

She looked down at what he had pushed into her hand. It was a metal hexagon with a stylized C in the center. She vacillated. She wasn't one to run. She wanted to fight not flee, direct all her surging fury against Therakiel. She looked back up at the battle and then at the torch on the pillar next to her. Grimly she shoved the badge into a pocket and then started the spell. She dove into the flame.

Cataclysm hovered in the darkness looking at the horde around Juryrig's lab. She knew she was lit up like a beacon in the night sky but nothing was looking at her. Every creature that hadn't been attacking them at the brownstone must be here. Why? What was Plan C? And how did they know about it?

She wasn't going to be able to break through this army, at least not quickly. Traveling through the fire had proven to be exhausting and disorienting but she had managed to make it here in a fraction of the time it would have taken if she had flown. There was no shortage of fires; the whole city was burning. Unsure there was an open flame inside Juryrig's workshop she dove into a burning building.

She looked around the Plane of Fire and saw several flames near his workshop but she was pretty sure they were the fires that ringed the building. Looking past them she saw a small flame that seemed to be inside the workshop. Hoping she was right, she rushed over and popped out of the fire.

Cataclysm found herself in a dimly lit space that looked like a warehouse. The place was cluttered with equipment, half-finished inventions, discarded tools and piles of scrap. Yup, this was Juryrig's place. The most prominent item was an enormous ring, probably thirty feet across and mounted a good ten feet off the ground. A huge metal ramp let up to the ring's opening. It looked like an oversized, walk-in CT scanner.

She turned and saw next to her was a lit candle on the table. She wondered if that had been left specifically for her. Further thought was interrupted by a shriek. She whirled and saw Juryrig staring at her, his face ashen. "Oh god," he said. "What are you doing here?"

She was still a little disoriented from the battle and the rapid travel so it took her a moment to answer. "Defender sent me. Something about Plan C."

"Oh god," he said, horrified. "No, no, no. Oh god."

"What is Plan C?"

Juryrig started bustling about the workshop gathering things up. "Oh god. It'll never work. I mean there is no way I can align the fields. Oh god. There's no way. Oh god."

"What is Plan C?" she demanded again.

He was gathering a stack of thick manila folders and notebooks on a worktable. "Oh god. But we have no choice. Million to one is better than million to none. Oh god."

"What the fuck is going on?" she roared, getting angry.

Juryrig turned to look at her. "Do you have any electronics on you?"

"What?" she asked in confusion. He repeated the question and she said, "My phone."

"You'll have to leave that here." He pointed to an empty spot on the bench. "The temporal displacement is distorted by solid state electronics. Your torso might end up in a different when than the rest of you. Of course I'm not sure what happens with the human nervous system. I mean we've never used a live subject, and even in our inorganic tests we've managed only a few seconds. Oh god."

She was trying to make sense of his babbling and suddenly one phrase leapt out at her. "Temporal displacement?" she said in disbelief. "You mean a time machine?"

"Um, what? Well, yes, um, I guess that's a good an approximation. I mean it's not technically..." He broke off as a loud alarm rang. "Oh god," he said.

"What is that?" she shouted over the blaring klaxon.

"Oh god. They've broken through the outer door." His voice was shaking and he looked like he was ready to faint. "Phone," he said, tapping the table. "Quickly. No time. Oh god."

Cataclysm was in a daze but followed his orders, taking her phone out and putting it on the table. He pushed the stack of folders into her hands and she took them out of reflex. Then he handed her a disc in a jewel case. "This has everything you need. Optical media should survive the trip. Um, I think. If not, the paper documentation will be a backup but it isn't as complete." He shook his head. "Oh god. This will never work."

He scurried over to a control panel and started to type commands onto a keyboard there. A rising hum made her turn to see the enormous ring was starting to glow. A blinding white light appeared inside it. A time machine. She was looking at a time machine.

Juryrig squealed in fear as something started to pound at the door that led into this workshop. Soon there were several somethings pounding and scratching at the door and their roars could be heard even over the alarm. He turned back to his work, saying "Oh god" over and over.

"How far am I going back?" she asked, trying to adjust to the situation.

He looked up at her for a moment. "Um, I don't know. It's never worked more than a few seconds. I mean the quantum levels are exponential, so it's not that much harder to go back a year as a minute but we've never managed a minute. Um, the theory is sound, I think. Maybe. I mean it might just..." He looked at her and then looked away again. "Well, never mind about that. I'm hoping at least a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. Hope I don't overshoot and send you back to the Middle Ages or something. Oh god."

The activity at the door grew more frantic. Something massive hit the door and she saw it buckle every so slightly. Juryrig focused on his work as best he could. Cataclysm stood there helplessly, trying to keep hold of the pile of paperwork and wishing she had something to do. She wanted to open that door and fight her way out. As she thought that the massive thing hit the door again and she changed her mind.

"What about you?" she asked. "Are you coming too?"

Juryrig swallowed. "I have to stay. I have to operate it. Besides, it's already dangerous to send even one person back. The temporal entanglements are...oh, you must not talk to anyone! That's very, very important. Only me. But don't tell me anything. Just give me that stuff," he nodded at the pile in her arms, "and I'll figure it out. But don't say what happened."

"Why not?" She knew she should probably let him concentrate but she was still trying to wrap her brain around what was happening.

"Well, it has to do with...oh god!" He broke off as the door was hit again. It was noticeably bent now but still holding. He continued. "It has to do with information transfer and quantum consistency and, um, other things that might not make sense to you. Let's just say that the Universe doesn't like it when effect precedes cause. Information can move forward but not back. The timestream can adjust to some information moving against the flow but if too much does then it will disrupt the...well the Universe will kind of fold in on itself as the present and the past become the same and, um, that would be bad. Nearly there! Get ready."

She stared at him. "To do what?"

He nodded at the ring. "To go into the Temporal Quantum Displacement Engine." At her look he added, "The time machine. Go up the ramp but don't go in until I tell you. I'm trying to align the fields so you'll go back as far as possible. It wouldn't prove much if I send you back only an hour or so."

The door took another blow and one of the hinges popped out. They could hear the bellowing of the creatures outside and a clawed hand reached through the gap to push at the door. Juryrig's litany of "Oh god" sped up. "There!" he cried out in triumph. "Go, quickly!"

As he said this, a final blow struck the door and it tore out of its frame. It sagged to the side, leaving enough of a gap for the first creatures to start through. They started pouring into the lab and headed straight for Juryrig. She hesitated but Juryrig screamed, "Go!" in a panic. "If you don't go now then we all died for nothing!"

Feeling like a coward, Cataclysm mounted the ramp and ran full tilt into the light.