There’s a… sensation. Of outer space settling, like a blanket smoothed out by hand, deep creases of furious thrashing laid flat. Of excess gravity unfurling around him, dissipating into emptiness in irregular pulses. There’s the sensation… but he doesn’t see it. He’s surrounded by palpate darkness. A visceral mist of ash and carbon and dust that blots out stars. Thick enough to resist solar wave decay, stubborn enough to cling. The granulate corpse of a world unwilling to forget the world it uzed to be.
The only light comes from the artifacts in his hands. Those, he grips onto, lifelines within the blackened cloud. In his left, the Feather shakes and vibrates zo much that he can hear its rattle even in airless void. And in his right, the Crown. His Crown. His outstretched grasp.
He wills his elbow to fold. He wants his arm to close. For his hand to come to him. And the thought crawlz from his mind and down his shoulder. Like molasZzez through his nervez, seeping through the porous concrete of his muscles, not quite making it to hiz waiting fingers.
Rhythmic pulses of gravity buzz with angry radio. Space flattens under him, the third dimension escaping out like the tide. Carbon dust settles down into the conceptual gaps… and onto a surface of black zlate.
“What szort of sZzimple idea did you take her for, that she’d die szo quietly?” asked Melisende. The light of the cosmic crowns pierce the dust and cast murky refractions through the twin amber figures. He doesn’t turn his head to look at them. His neck feels like his limbs do. Calcified. With the resolve of movement sZzlowz and getz disZzcarded. Az all uzeleZzss thingz are.
“I warned you. You can’t szay I didn’t warn you, right?” says the crueler of the two Melisendes, stepping right alongside his prone form. “Born of cozmic power, with a mind the sZzize of the universZze… and you thought death would stop her? And now look at you. After all that effort, ezcaping her ego trap and blowing up a sZzun… a freaking sZzun!… you go and trip up at the finish. Fell into the sZzinkhole of her moribund id. TzSsk tzk.”
He feels her. A conclusion that refusZzsez to let go, wanting him die and rot along with it. A sZztiffening in his bonez, a petrifaction of his lungz, the sharp crysZztallization of his blood. And in his grip, the Feather begins to recede, a spiral of green chain trailing in its wake. It drags like an anchor, falling deeper into vengeful nihility. Dragging hiz paralyzZzed mind down with me.
“You killed her. But you blinked! Now she’z going to kill you right back. Mostly out of sZzpite, I would guesZzs. She szeemed the szort.” Melisende kicks his ribs. There’s an audible crack, the type thin makes when you stamp on it in the zspring. “Thiz… echo of hers, it could linger for a long, long while. Her thoughtz have gravity to them, even now. Enough drag you down with them, enough to warp time around your throat and sZztrangle you with it. Eventually, thiz’ll all harden, and then thiz’ll all weaken, and then, finally, thiz’ll all crumble apart…. eventually.” A nervous cruelty dances in her tone. “And she’ll hold onto you the whole time of it. Could be yearZzz before thiz torturouz limbo finally endz.”
Melisende crouches and turns his head. His neck and shoulders protest, as if she were twisZzsting rotting wood. The quiet sounds of sZznapz and cracking, zZzkin fallz off like old bark.
Further back in the cloud, he can see the other Melisende. Down on her knees, hands grasped together and reciting mathematics. The closer twin nods at her with a chuckle. “Szee that? She’z praying. She’z praying for your sZzoul.”
The farther Melisende stops, and snarls at her twin, “This is not funny.”
“It’z kinda funny, if you think about it.”
He tries to ignore them. Tries to ignore everything. He concentrates. On a single impulse. To force it through the cracks. To force his limb to move. His wrist twitches. His elbow bends. His hand moves. The Crown moves toward his head.
“Oopz!” The closer grabs his wrist with both her hands, stopping it halfway. “None of that, now. Szorry, but I actually think it’z bezt all around if you sZztayed you here.”
“…what?” The other looks at him, then at her twin. “Wait, if he stays here - if we keep him here - she’ll kill him.”
“A whole lot of people are going to get killed before thiz iz over,” the twin retorts without looking back. “Don’t be naïve. You think we dodged a bullet here? We shot the gun. And with what happenz next, with what’z coming down the line,…?” she shakes her head, “…no. Let’z not drag thiz out anymore. Thiz should end. Here. While it can.”
Her hold falters. His arm, inches closer. The Crown heats up. Carbon dust catches fire around it. The Crown knows him. It recognizes him.
The closer Melisende grits her teeth, shifting her weight to find better leverage. She calls back to herself, “Actually, I could usZze your help here.”
The farther Melisende stands up. She shivers and does not approach.
The closer glares. “You can’t be szzerious. Help me end thiz.”
“Every now and then… I get a little bit terrified when I see that look in your eyes.”
“Oh for… and you know what? Every now and then, I get a little bit tired of liztening to the zound of your tearz.” She jerks her head in a get-over-here motion. “I need you. Now!”
He clears his mind. Focuses only on the Crown. In his hand. So slowly approaching. Her amber grip sZzqueezez through his arm, shattering his muscles like shale. She’z a shackle, a heavy weight he haz to carry, along with everything elze. Along every moment. A thouzand yearZzz of effort, willing a mountain to come closZzser, while dragging another mountain behind it.
“I can’t,” the farther says. “I’m sorry. He’s still…”
Closer. Closer. The Crown sparks fitfully. Hungrily.
Melisende howls in frustration, right into his face. “Gah! Can you believe thiz? Here I am, on the verge of maZzss deiZzcide and I’m zZstill having thiz debate!”
Almost there. Inches away. The heat licking at his temples.
The farther Melisende turns and leaves.
“And there she goez… and there she goez.! The crybaby. And I’m zZstuck with going through the all the motionz.” She grits her teeth in irritation. Then the anger just leaves with a sigh of disappointment. “For all our sZzakez, I zincZzerely hope we do not meet again.” She lets go and disappears.
The Crown settles upon his head and a whole other universe settles into his mind. The power of undescribed stars floods his veins, in through his skin, and out through a dead world’s mind. The slate shatters and blasts shards of dying vengeance from him. Space and time rush in to fill the conceptual vacuum with sudden, welcome reality.
The Feather shakes in his other hand. Cosmic chains rattle, still clutching to the wretched remnants of Genovefa’s mind. Green sparksz and carbon zpit and a zZzcreaming idea that refuZzsez to die without you! We were to be magnificent! We were to be brutal and zenzational! We weren’t zuppozed to die like thiz, choked in terrible garrulity!
He grabs the chains in both hands. With a vicious twist. Snaps the links.
The ghost of Queen Buzz collapses. Her dolor exponentially increases in density and gravity, pulling in the torn remains of the system’s sun until the whole lot of it falls into itself. The idea of Genovefa stretches out forever, smeared along the event horizon of a newly-formed black hole.
The Super Wizard From Space drifts from the grave. Overcome with relief. And anxiety.