The pain was terrible. Skinner was close to death, he knew, as he lay there, in the scribe's chamber that was once used by a power-hungry czar. Fires raged around him, and he could feel one of it's tongues licking one of his legs. At least, the one he could feel, anyway.
Sawyer had been led away by the other invisible man, Reed, at knifepoint; he was alone, and he was dying.
I'm dying, because of those bloody explosives I planted. God, the irony, he thought grimly.
The horrible burns that marred his body were enough to kill a man, but by some miracle, he lived. As the heat grew to unbearable temperatures, and the bookshelves and their contents burned merrily, Rodney Skinner fought unconsciousness. He wanted to die with his eyes open.
Like a brave man he pretended to be.
M's fortress burned around him, thanks to Nemo's explosives. Sawyer was somewhere else, but Skinner knew the American could take care of himself. Allan was somewhere, too. Mina was fighting it out with Gray, and Hyde and their Indian captain were taking care of the scientists.
Skinner didn't know what had possessed him to do what he did. Pushing the flame-bearer out of the way, so that Tom could live, was an act he didn't expect himself to do. Still, he had done it. And he was paying the price.
Now, he knew that all the things he had left unsaid would never be said. Regret poured through him. He would never get another chance at Mina...
Something nearby exploded, deafening the invisible thief. Now, he couldn't hear. At least it stops the cackling o' the flames, he thought. Great. So I'll die a deaf man.
He couldn't move; the pain was too great. He closed his eyes as the flames engulfed him.
He was lying down on something cool, like a floor, except that it was soft, like a quilt or something along those lines. He kept his eyes shut, not daring to see what he thought he might. He wasn't exactly looking forward to the flames of hell.
"He's awake, isn't he?" a feminine voice asked, somewhere in front and above him. His eyes snapped open, and all he saw was a azure blue above him. It looked like the sky, except there were no clouds whatsoever.
"He should be," another voice answered the first. Skinner knew the two were women, definitely. "We've waited long enough."
Skinner sat up, very slowly, testing to see if he was still a crisp. He wasn't. In fact, he was visible. He wasn't naked, like he expected himself to be; he was dressed in a toga. It was white, and too clean for his own liking. Skinner held up an arm and examined it in various angles, checking for any burns or scraps, or anything, for that matter.
"Told you he was awake," the second voice came again. Skinner looked up, saw three women some ways in front of him. He blinked. One of them — the second who had spoken — had the most wildest hair color he had ever seen in his life.
She had been speaking to a pretty blond, who stood next to her and was strumming her harp, plucking at it.
"Welcome, Skinner," a third woman spoke. She had burgundy tresses, and bright green eyes. "You should be happy you're here, y'know."
"Because…?" Skinner asked warily. "Where is this place? Last I remember, I was in M's fortress, in the library o' sorts…" he could bring himself to add that he was dying.
"…dying," the blond finished for him. Skinner swallowed, then nodded. "Well, Skinner," she continued, dropping her harp on the ground, where it disappeared into the clouds they were standing on. Skinner's eyes widened when he looked down at his feet. "This is the place where souls of people who died come, when they're not sure if they should go to the Underworld, or heaven."
"I'm Ash," she said, then pointed at her friends. "The one with the wild hair is Sethoz, and that's Clez. We take care of this place."
"Sorta like owners," Clez piped up. "We're waiting for Raven and Roderica."
"Raven works for Thanatos, god of Death," Sethoz explained. "While Roderica's workin' for Zeus." She paused. "You do know who Zeus is, don't you?" Skinner nodded.
"Where are those two?" Ash asked, looking around. Her voice, in itself, was musical. "They're supposed to be out of their meeting by now."
She was interrupted by a loud yell from above, and someone fell out of the sky between the women and Skinner. The invisible man took a step back in surprise. The black figure lay in a crumpled heap on the clouds, before it picked itself up slowly, revealing a young dark-haired woman.
"Roderica, I'm gonna get you for that!" she yelled at the direction of where she fell, shaking her clenched fist. "You just had to open the portal in mid-air, didn't you?!"
"Glad you know that, Raven," another woman said, walking out of a swirling blue portal, this time on the ground. She was another beauty, who looked a lot like Raven, except the fact that her hair was so light a blond that it was almost white. "Oh, hey, Skinner."
"Who? What? Where?" Raven spun around, and started when she saw Skinner standing there. "Ack! What're you doing here?"
"Good question," Skinner said. "What am I doing here?"
"Well, you're dead," Roderica shrugged. Skinner blinked as the other four women nodded. "At least, technically, anyway."
"You got caught in those flames, remember?" Raven said, trying to jog his memory. Skinner nodded. "So you died. Problem is —"
"— our respective bosses were sorting out an admin error when you died," Roderica picked up. "Fixing the system and all that. You, my friend, died at the wrong time, so they're not sure whether you should go up or down." Roderica pointed up and down as she said that.
"That is, to the Underworld or heaven," Clez explained. "So, what's the verdict, ladies?"
"Well, since you people cheated the system when you stopped the Nautilus from sinking," Roderica told them, "The people up there took away the riv — "
"The Nautilus sank?!" Skinner exclaimed. "But they made it to Mongolia! I met up with them! Hell, I talked to them!"
Raven scowled and whacked him over the head with a palm and he flinched. "Let her finish."
"Well, Skinner," Sethoz said, "You raise a good point. What happened was this: the Nautilus did sink, but we four cheated the system."
"What you need to understand, Skinner," Ash said, "is that for every one who can die, they have a place in either heaven or the Underworld. We routed all onboard the Nautilus here instead while we changed the timeline, so that the Nautilus didn't sink, and they met up with you."
"After we sent them back," Raven said solemnly, "We went through a trial. We were all allowed to keep our places, since the people up there decided that we had done the morally right thing. The river got …confiscated, if you will, and Roderica was sent here to watch us."
"And I've been supervising you ever since," Roderica added. "Anyway, our bosses have decided your fate, Rodney Skinner."
"Where do I go?" Skinner asked. Please, let me go to heaven.
"Back where you left," Raven chirped. "Actually, not really where you left, but close. Where the League will find you alive, anyway."
Skinner's heart skipped a beat; he was ecstatic. He would have another chance to live again, to right old wrongs. And to irritate Mina. "What do I need to do?"
Raven grinned and stepped back. Skinner was confused, but pleasantly surprised when Roderica spun him around and pressed her lips to his as a flash of white light took him.
There was a moan even though there was no one in sight, and Nemo looked around. There, in the snow, was a deep impression. He frowned. It looked like a man...
Nemo's eyes widened, and he waved some of his crew who had come over to see to the debris over. "My god, it's Skinner!" The man had been thought dead in a bigger blast that had followed the first; he must've been blown out of the danger.
A few medics arrived shortly with a stretcher, and they carted the badly burnt man away to the Nautilus, Dr. Jekyll following.
Skinner felt himself being carried away, and he forced an eye open, looking up at the white sky.
He gave a small smile to himself, knowing he was alive once more, before he lapsed into unconsciousness.