Dusty Death

-dedicated to Gussiki-

I heard the sword's sickening syllable before I saw it.

She should have died hereafter.

Despite my compassion for Holly, I could not mourn her yet, because we were in the

middle of our war against time. I had to detach myself from her death as best I could. If I allowed myself to fully acknowledge that she had died, no one would get off the island alive. I would lack the concentration I would need to form a plan to resurrect her. But I could hardly hold back tears.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

Time was bending in stranger ways than it had been before: I was remembering Holly's past as though she wouldn't have a future. The future where she is dead seemed to extend itself infinitely in both directions, though without Holly Hybras will be whisked away unguided into the time tunnel, killing us all, by compressing Earth's millennia into a matter of minutes, and depositing us wherever, whenever.

I had to keep the count.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

Could I have helped her, warned her perhaps? Could I have distracted Abbot somehow with my thieved magic, as he stepped through that cloud of ash?

And I was late again: I had let him claim the lives of No.1 and Qwon, as well, due to my primary concern for Holly. But I can change their fate if I can change hers.

Abbot came after me now that the rest of my friends had fallen. I stood near Holly, holding her handgun, trying not to think she might never speak again.

He had drawn closer, his triumphant growls louder; my quickening heart beat was nearly throwing off the all-important count.

And—three, two, one—here was the moment when I could reverse her mortal past. I pulled the trigger, aiming in exactly the right direction, shooting at exactly the right moment.

Out, out, brief candle!

I hold my breath and hope. But surely something should have changed by now: Abbot's sword rests itself against my back. Had I missed a beat in my count? Had the theory behind my plan been false? What had I done wrong?

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player...

And why hadn't I died yet? Abbot must want to draw it out for dramatic purposes. Perhaps he was raving about how I've lost and divulging his evil plots in the manner of all fictional villains.

If he was, I wasn't listening, because I'd spotted something dreadful.

A second Artemis, unaware of our divergent timelines. I could see him, though he evidently could see neither Holly's ashen corpse nor me. He was joining the warlocks' circle, and so was Holly, a breathing mirror image of her still counterpart.

It was apparent I had managed to change the past, but not my past.

Some other version of myself is going to enjoy a life where his friend wasn't murdered before his eyes, some arbitrary doppelganger never had to experience the double agony of saving her—she linked hands with the other Artemis and the demons—without saving her—she was lying in the dust, and I stood with her, in her grave. The parallel universe was near enough to glimpse, to long for, but not near enough to enter.

It is a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury—

I wanted to look about the disintegrating caldera for an invisible Artemis watching my present with envious eyes because he attempted to fix a more devastating event on the island using the time flux yet only my timeline reaped the benefits.

The enemy at my back has finished waiting, however. Abbot roared, making clear the intentions of his bloodlust and vengeance, but only the tip of his sword went below my skin. I screamed, though I tried not to. He was going to do it slowly, it appeared, relishing my every rasp since I was defenseless and defeated.

But the pain that was staining my shirt was of such a petty magnitude compared to the ache of losing Holly and then failing to find her; I needed more if the one was to replace the other…

signifying nothing.

I stepped backwards, into the same steel that stole Holly—together, now, in dusty death.


A/N: Yay, I managed to use the word "doppelganger" in the fic for Gus. Exalt me!

All those lines in italics are from Shakespeare's Macbeth, the reasons being 1) they fit so well to the story (Gus came up with the setting for the fic and the idea of AUing it, and then I turned it into a depressing angst with unclear time paradoxes), and 2) whenever I have to write an English essay, it's tradition that I spend half the time quoting Shakespeare (and sometimes they are even relevant quotes) at Gussiki through gmail!chat, and, because of this, usually end up finishing these essays at midnight. (Bad news, Gustoline, the Hamlet essay is going to be an in-class assignment.)

More specifically, the quotes are from Macbeth's bleak "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech (Act 5, Scene 5), in which he discusses life and death, SPOILER just after finding out his wife died (killed herself, actually), and just before having to go out and fight a battle ("She should have died hereafter" she shouldn't have died right now, because I can't mourn her death, since right now I have to go do battle swith a forest/s). END SPOILER (Oh, go ahead, read the spoiler, you won't die, or even bleed. My teacher always discloses the entire plot to us before we finish the play.) I didn't include all of the speech, because some bits didn't fit and just interrupted flow, so some of the quotes seem weird because they are sentence fragments.

Disclaimer: I own zilch. Colfer doesn't own Shakespeare. Shakespeare owns the universe, basically (he also pwns).