A/N: Working on Elmer's and A.J.'s interludes still. Here's the first of the voted for Interludes, Caleb! Must warn you, there are some slight spoilers for one of the other fics, but unless you really understand what it is you're reading, you'll prolly overlook it and be spared the spoiler. :3 I hope.
A/N 2: The Raven being referred to here isn't the one from Teen Titans, but it is Caleb's pet-name for Danny Fenton/Phantom. Caleb has the tendency to bestow animal names upon people he really bonds with as a sign of affection and friendship. However, he rarely calls Danny by this name to his face unless he feels it is all right.
A/N 3: Cookie to whoever can identify Caleb's 'sons' in this Interlude.
Canon to Burning Black
Burning Black Interlude
Karma Slave – Splashdown
This wasn't something he wanted to see so early in the morning.
Absently, Caleb noted the time -3:27:44 am- as he gazed at the two fairies sobbing over their words, babbling incoherently through their tears as they huddled together, then lifted his eyes to see the body of a small boy, a boy he'd met only a few months ago.
Timothy Tiberius Turner, age: 10, Class: Hero Apprentice, Level: 4, Hometown: Dimmsdale, California. Last known status: Active.
They cried that he'd fallen, they'd been too late to arrive and do anything; they stole him away when the fairies exploded onto the scene en masse, there for a retrieval and immediate quarantine. They had nowhere else to go, no one to turn to, so they came here, to New York, to the Archives of the Twin Blades. They came to Caleb for his special magic, the arts he learned in the Lost Age of Union, when the world was Symphonia and if one could intervene at the right time, a fallen warrior could be restored to life.
Caleb's eyes remained on the limp body of the boy in the pink hat, his little figure wrapped in a bubble of magic that preserved him, kept him from decomposing, and held him suspended in the air behind the weeping fairy godparents.
Current status: Deceased.
"Let me see what I can do." he finally said curtly, interrupting the flow of words and tears, "Drop that shield and let me examine him; we can't afford to waste time if I'm going to do anything for him."
It seemed like this was going to be something that he was forever bound to do, serving Heroes and tending to them, raising them up when it seemed like they fell. It was a self-appointed task, but also one enforced as punishment. Each day was the same, cycling over and over like some deity-forsaken wheel of torment. Caleb's existence, once free and bright and full of possibilities now reduced to this; enslaved to this task without end.
He'd made one error in his life, just one, countless millennia ago, and in a life that should have been forgotten he'd made another. The mistakes he made that now dictated he would be bound to preserve what he once ruined... it seemed as though he was to be forced to do it again.
He would be coming back to that damned wheel for another punishment for this. Caleb's mouth quirked into a strained grin that soon turned into a sardonic smile as the fairies deposited their charge carefully, lovingly, on an examination table. All right, he'd bite his tongue and go again, but this would be the last time, damn it all, because he couldn't bear to see another life lost due to his failure as a living being.
But if he did this right... played it cautiously and carefully, setting up the pieces to create a failsafe... maybe he could get away with it. This time. This time. He'd come back to the wheel and it would be for the final time, because he'd win and he'd laugh and be free again. Because he had his trump card, one that his punishment had given him to enforce his slavery. Perfect neutrality; the power to be unswayed by the temptations offered to him by either Good or Evil and bound only to the Wheel, to the cycle of serving in the name of the Earth, protecting its life and knowledge and existence.
As long as he stood in the middle, between the two forces, he was untouchable. He played one against the other like a master, siphoning what he wanted, what he needed, and if anyone fell, he was safe from it. He stood in the middle, kept his balance perfect, and let the cogs spin out of control around him. There was something to be said for being a slave of karma; he always knew exactly when his Wheel was going to turn badly, and was well-prepared to withdraw to the middle, standing in neutrality and solid as stone.
This was his chance to nudge one side over the other, and escape with it. With the knowledge that he had risen above his perfect neutrality, that there was a way for him to escape it, and eventually shear it away to join who he wanted to join.
Broken neck, healed. Fluids and wastes vacated, disposed. Body cleaned and prepped for mana autopsy.
Caleb examined the boy from head to toes, cold and clinical, detached from his emotions -he's so cold- for the time being. Once again he stood in the middle, in his zone of neutrality. Just as easily as he could restore life and have the boy bounce out the door as happy as could be, he could turn against them and leave the boy for dead, citing the adage that death comes to all and it would be sinful to distort Nature just to bring him back.
He took a deep breath, aware of the hopeful eyes watching him from nearby, then lifted the Wonder Fork to start his spell. He stepped out of the middle... and leaned towards life.
"Bring back this soul from purgatory!" Caleb declared forcefully, putting all his power and will into this casting. "Resurrection!"
Cosmo and Wanda were staring at the boy in disbelief, then at him. Why didn't it work? Caleb could almost hear that question being asked of him. He tried again.
"Heaven, return this soul from thine embrace!" he tried another spell, "Raise the Dead!"
The Wheel began to tip backwards, and Caleb found himself thrown back into perfect neutrality, struggling as his wrists were chained up, forced to watch his third failure take place; he lowered the Wonder Fork, gazing stonily at the still lifeless boy before him and tuning out the renewed sobbing that came from the fairies.
"How long has he been dead?" he finally asked. They told him it took them a couple of days to get to New York, flying under the fairy radar, so to speak; why?
Time of effectiveness for all revival spells: within 15 minutes of death, as determined by the ceasing of heartbeat and breathing for 5 minutes.
"I can't resurrect him." Caleb replied softly, "He's been touched by Death; his soul is no longer within my reach." And he felt the Wheel spin, almost victoriously, around him.
Caleb retreated to his office soon after the failed spell attempts. He was certain that the fairies would preserve the body again -Decomposition rate: .5% for the time allocated for autopsy- and would remain within the walls of the Archives. It was a safe haven in their minds, a place where they could stay unmolested and be with their fallen godchild. They were unable to let go of him after death; Caleb knew exactly how they felt.
He had thought he could go on without Wren when the Wonder Chef died, thought his vow to live until death reunited them was enough to sustain him when his memories grew too painful to recall. He thought he was strong enough to stay on the side the Wonder Chef chose, to follow his path and continue his journey of peace, preservation, and guidance. But he wasn't. Caleb couldn't let go, but he couldn't bear to break his vow to Wren to protect and love all life, and it took many, many years, centuries even, before the strain finally broke him and he grew desperate to recover what he lost.
And that was when he made his second mistake, his first for this life. He attempted to distort Nature to bring his dearest friend back to life, and it failed, failed horribly. His companion -his daughter- paid the price in exchange for his continued life, and he was punished with perfect neutrality, forever severed from his promise to join Wren in death.
"Martel, I need your advice." he finally whispered, sitting on the edge of his desk, shoulders slumping tiredly. Light, soft green and vibrant, shimmered into view nearby, and he felt slender arms wrap around his shoulders in a hug, heard the soft clinks of metal on metal from the rings on the head of her staff tapping against each other. He kept his head bowed, weary of the burdens he carried and sick of the karmic wheel that continued spinning around him, putting him in his perfectly neutral balance as it tore at his heart and soul a little more.
"I'm here, Caleb. Tell me what woes you, Little Brother." the Spirit of Mana murmured gently. Caleb chuckled, a dry and hollow sound.
"Besides the usual? One of my Hero Apprentices died recently, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it or revive him. I had no idea an accident had happened, and his fairies took too long to get him to me." he returned quietly, "I tried to revive him, but I couldn't. I know I should leave it at that... but..."
He felt Martel pull herself away just long enough to take a seat beside him on the desk, setting the winged staff beside her, one hand coming down to rest delicately over one of his. He gazed at it, taking in the flawless skin, pale as the moon, and the graceful fingers that belonged to his older sister, sister twice over because of circumstance and her actions combined. He didn't even think about it when his other hand came down to rest on hers, drawing comfort from the contact. It was an odd contrast; they were siblings, yet the Goddess Martel's hand was flesh and bone and blood -divine but still there, so it counted-, while his own was metal and synthetics and circuits and conduits. She was a creature of flesh, fashioned by the joining of the Guardian Spirit of Mana, the thousands of souls that resided with her and Martel Yggdrasill in the Great Seed, and the android that first served Altessa, Tabatha; her power had been great enough that metal became flesh and bone.
Caleb did not have that luxury, a soul bound to a body of metal and magic by her power. He was no great Guardian Spirit, but an angel twice fallen, deemed unworthy of such power. What was one tainted soul against the thousands of innocents within her? He couldn't be bitter towards her for her life, she was his dear sister, his only family left in existence; he couldn't be bitter, but he could be somewhat resentful that he was still one of a kind, doomed to be alone.
Didn't help that she had also been the one who placed the punishment of perfect neutrality on his head, that disappointed expression on her face as she spoke the enchantment had wounded him almost as badly as knowing he'd lost his chance to be with Wren. He didn't speak to her for a century after that, only reconciling with her when Dhaos appeared in an attempt to steal her away to save his own world. He'd acted as a conduit then, helping his sister transform the man into a Great Seed Vessel and sending him back to save that other world, a world whose name was so very much like Derris-Kharlan that it made Caleb shiver.
"You can't bring yourself to leave him for dead." Martel finished for him, as though well aware of his thoughts before they wandered down the path they did. Caleb nodded slowly. She sighed, more a slow exhalation than anything else, a thoughtful sound rather than exasperated. "When Ratatosk began awakening and the Heroes of Union, called Heroes of Regeneration, took to referring to Yggdrasill by another name to protect me, I took steps myself." she murmured, "By sealing the path to the Tree, no souls are able to become part of its collective, so following a dying soul to the Tree becomes impossible. However, in doing this, its regeneration of mana became much slower than before. You know this. I continue placing mana in this world for you, despite Ratatosk's commandment to isolate the world from needing it."
She reached out with a free hand, lifting Caleb's chin so as to smile gently at him, eye to eye. "That is why I am grateful to you, Little Brother, for maintaining the level of mana surrounding this world and allowing me plenty of time to restore myself before cycling the flow again." The smile slowly turned into a small frown, her eyes shining with emotion, "But at the same time, I cannot allow you to violate Nature just to restore one life. You attempted it once, knowing that I took Adam's soul into the collective long after Ratatosk's journey, in honor of the deeds he had performed for me, for Lloyd, for Symphonia. It pained me, but I had to punish you for it. You lost someone dear to both of us because of what you had done, and in repeating an attempt that caused much pain and heartache in Lloyd's time you led me to believe that you were regressing. Perfect neutrality is the chain and lock against loosing the power of the soul within you."
"Timmy Turner did not deserve to die as he did, and I don't have that kind of bond with him. You punished me enough already, restrengthening the enchantment when I met Raven. I don't care to try turning anyone else into an angel." Caleb protested weakly, "But... I just... he has to live..."
Martel stared at him, a stern and unreadable expression on her face as she kept the contact between them direct, her fingers still trapping his chin in place so he couldn't turn away from her.
"Tell me the truth, Caleb." she finally whispered, low and firm, "Tell me now of your intentions. Why is this boy so important to you if he has no bond to you, has nothing of Adam's legacy in his veins?" Caleb's eyes widened slightly as she radiated with light, looking far more intimidating than any woman as willowy and graceful as she could possibly look. "What makes him worthy of being brought back from Death's embrace when our magic, yours and mine, is incapable of breaching The Veil through which he has passed?"
"His service as a Hero is incomplete; darkness is stirring and he must be there to quell it." Caleb returned automatically, unthinking as he continued staring, wide-eyed, at his sister. It had just come out of him, a hunch that solidified as fact even as he spoke the words. "The world needs him; he stands with Lloyd, with Wren, with Raven, on the path of the Gentle Idealist."
"You are a slave to karma, the source of power for your perfect neutrality. To gain, you must lose. When you lose, you must gain. You choose what to lose and what to gain, moving in accordance. In this, you are master of the Wheel that was bound to you." the Goddess murmured, "Each decision, each action, each movement you make, is but another Wheel within your Wheel, all turning together to support your strength and weakness in balance until the day you can shed your shackles. The day your evolution as a living android is enough to earn your true reward. Are you willing to sacrifice life for life? You still have lives dear to you that can be offered."
Caleb closed his eyes, his emotions churning and making him feel sick. To get Timmy back, he'd have to give up someone else. He himself could not be offered in exchange; it would free him from his punishment. However, people he cared for -loved- were unprotected from this type of threat; their lives could be taken to pay for his crimes. He could only hope they would forgive him, but this dread feeling he had upon seeing the boy lying dead on his table could only mean that something far more horrible lay in wait for everyone. One life for one life, in hopes that it was one life for many. Caleb hated himself for it -Lloyd would be ashamed of him- but he sucked in his breath and answered before his bravado left him.
"Yes. Take any life you need."
Martel nodded sharply and released him, getting to her feet and recollecting her staff. She took a few steps from him, back facing the angelic android, and stood for several seconds in silence. She turned at last to face him, a smile once again gracing her lips, that same smile that told Caleb she had already foreseen everything, good and bad, and even had plans in place to make sure her younger brother wouldn't suffer his penalty too badly.
"Then it is done. You wish to have Timmy Turner brought back from the dead in a fashion that our magic could not accomplish; call your recently christened beloved, that child who can pass through The Veil when we cannot." she told him, pointing the head of her staff at Caleb, "He will take three days to contemplate the task you will place on him, but stand strong and he will choose to retrieve the boy's soul and revive him." She frowned sternly again. "And this is the crime you will commit; you will sin against Nature by restoring to life a soul that was touched by Death, violating the order all things must abide by. As punishment, I will take the life of a child you 'sired', one of your sons."
"My... what?" Caleb whispered in confusion, eyes wide and baffled, "I don't have children... I can't have... I'm an android... a machine..." Martel narrowed her eyes at him, face tilting almost menacingly.
"You attempted to steal Adam's soul long before you came to meet your dear Raven, by channeling him into the body of a child before birth, at the moment a soul is forged within the womb, thereby giving him a natural body with a mana signature that would conform to match his own." she told him icily, "You attempted such a thing twice, and failed both times due to your mispronunciation of a single word in that spell. You fathered two sons in this manner, thus why they appear so similar to one another despite their differing backgrounds. I will take one of them, tonight, by poison."
Caleb's hands tightened on the edge of his desk, cracking the wood under his fingertips.
"I... I understand." he managed to choke out. He knew, now, who the 'sons' were that she spoke of, and hated himself even more.
This was what it meant to be a slave of karma. He was untouchable, but those around him were swept away by the spinning of his Wheel.
"Caleb." Martel whispered and he looked at her again, pain already filling his eyes at knowing what he'd done, "You are still my dear younger brother, and I still love you, despite all you've done in your first life and in this one. Do you believe that I would be so cruel to you?"
He shook his head, slowly, uncertain at first, then with a resigned surety.
"Then believe in me and my actions. You wish to take back the life of a grade school student." she told the android and bent to look him in the eyes again, focused and sharp, "In exchange, you will give back the life of a grade school student. Your son will not die of poison, but he will lose the life he has now, taking on the life of a new child."
And she vanished from his presence once she saw the light of hope return to Caleb's eyes.
It was only a few minutes after Martel had gone. Caleb sat at his desk, phone at his ear as he smiled at the empty room, a predatory smirk of one who had everything under control. The smile of a chess master. It didn't take him long to figure out who Martel meant by 'a child that could pass beyond The Veil'. Danny Phantom, alias Danny Fenton, had the power to cross that sacred boundary. It had never occurred to him to ask a child of Life and Death to distort both at the same time to save Timmy. Ah, well; that's what Martel's insight was for, right?
At Caleb's hands was a keypad, where he typed out rapid instructions for his own android servants to carry out, preparations to be made, rooms to be done up, stories to be had, documents and paperwork to be filled out and filed, false identifications and Social Security numbers to be created. He had to hurry and put all the pieces into place for this. The sooner Timmy's new life could be created, the better he would feel about everything, including setting the stage for Timmy's return to Dimmsdale to face down that foreboding darkness lingering on the horizon.
"Hello, Danny Fenton? ...Ah, Danny. Firstly, I'm sorry to hear about what happened to your cousin; very tragic."
"The Hounder Organization will cover the cost of the funeral. ...Yes, I know it won't be until the end of the week, but that's fine."
"Why? Well, I'm handling that. In the meantime, I have a proposition to make. ...Don't yell; this is the perfect time for it."
"I have Timmy Turner's body here in New York."
"...Ah, that got your attention, didn't it?"
"Oh, my proposition? How would you like to bring him back from the dead?"
"Come to New York. You have three days to think it over."