In which nothing is sacred, except maybe Uncle Press.
When I woke up, the first thing I was aware of was blinding light.
"Agh," I mumbled in pain, clamping a hand over my eyes to further protect them from the brightness. My eyelids just weren't up to the job of wherever Saint Dane had taken me after he'd knocked me out.
"Open your eyes, Bobby," a deep and calm voice said. I shouted in surprise and opened my eyes, only to squeeze them tightly shut again. The lights hadn't dimmed at all. I rolled onto my stomach, the better to hide my face from the spotlights burning into my corneas.
"Stop wriggling around on the floor and open your eyes," the voice said, this time annoyed. Attempts at calculating my attacker's whereabouts failed miserably; the voice seemed to come from all around me, and even if I did manage to open my eyes within the next minute I wouldn't be able to focus nor see past the pain. I was royally screwed.
"Oh for pity's sake dim the lights already." A loud pop, followed by merciful darkness, and I cautiously raised myself to a sitting position. "Just use the regular lights. Honestly, how am I supposed to make impressive entrances if they can't even see?"
The voice was familiar. I opened my eyes, squinting at the still lit area. "Uncle Press?" I said, trying to make out where I was. The lights still hurt, but at least by blinking rapidly I could see that I seemed to be in some open area, and that there was a lot of fog swirling around. "Is that you?"
"Over here, Bobby," the voice boomed, once again from all corners of the room. "Oh heck, turn the surround sound off too, it's only My son."
"Your nephew," I said, somewhat confused. Maybe death had messed Uncle Press up more than I thought.
Footsteps approached from my left. "Mere semantics. Now get up, we've got to get you prepared for the next round."
I groaned. "I don't know what you were thinking, appointing me as Lead Traveler. I'm getting my ass handed to me out there. Besides, I'm kind of dead, in case you didn't notice." I waved one corporeal arm around to prove my point.
Strong hands wrapped around my upper arms, levering me to my feet. "You'll be back up on your feet in no time," he said. "Now come with Me, there's still work to be done."
I tried to get my bearings as Uncle Press led me through the room, but it was impossible. There were no walls to this room. I swear I'm not making this up Mark. I know you're thinking, "That's not structurally possible!" but it's the truth. The ceiling and floor seemed to stretch forever in all directions before disappearing into a haze.
Speaking of haze, there was this strange fog covering the floor. It swirled around my feet as I walked, but seemed to part for Uncle Press. I marked it up to air currents. I mean, how was I supposed to know it wasn't natural? I wasn't exactly the best student before, and I haven't been in a classroom for at least four years. Give me a break already.
It was difficult to tell how far we had gone by the time we finally stopped. Although the floor was brightly colored with millions of lines seemingly drawn at random, there were still no walls in sight and the ceiling had not changed from its dark color. However, Uncle Press seemed certain that we were where we needed to be. He rested a hand on my shoulder, gesturing to the room's expanse.
"It's all here," he said, abruptly kneeling to trace a few of the lines with gentle fingers. "You, the Travelers, and the acolytes, even Saint Dane, are all here on this map. Every time your paths have crossed, every time they will cross; past, present, future. I brought you here to prepare for the coming battle."
"You've got to be kidding me," I said, staring at the thousands of timelines sketched across the floor. "What are you, Uncle Press, God or something?"
"You mean it never occurred to you why you couldn't die? Why you had these abilities? Why I seemed to know everything there was to know, yet never told you anything?"
I glared at him. "Of course I wondered."
Uncle Press placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. "You have answered your own question."
There was a long pause as I tried to think through every conversation and thought I've ever had over the past seven years. "You mean that the Travelers and I are some sort of corporeal spirits from a completely alternate plane of existence sent here to keep the eternal balance?"
"No, Bobby. I am God, or something."
I laughed. Admit it, Mark, you would have laughed too. I mean, everyone has a crazy relative or two, but this was taking it too far. "I guess Saint Dane hit me harder than I thought."
"Bobby, everything you see here is real. Look at the timelines. See those hundred thousand intersections? See the births, the deaths, the people who walked in and out of your life at various times? How could you have ever imagined this, even with a concussion?"
He was right. As I crouched beside him, tracing the line of my life, it was impossible not to notice that it seemed like every other line spiraled around mine in some way. I know that sounds arrogant, but it looked like one of those DNA strands Mrs. Martin used to show us in biology class.
"So if you're...God," I said, finding it difficult to wrap my mouth around those three letters, "What does that make me?"
Uncle Press gave me that look of his, the one that spoke of utter disappointment at my simplicity, and it finally occurred to me what he was trying to get at. "Oh, no, no, that can't be right," I protested. "I died!"
"You'll be back in three days."
"It can't be right! I'm just a stupid kid!" With a gesture and a raised eyebrow Uncle Press stopped me short, inviting me to look at myself, and I did. The week old scraggly beard I was sporting didn't look like a kid's. The wrinkles on my forehead and at the corner of my eyes didn't look like a kid's. And what kid had gray hair starting at his temples?
Trying desperately to prove him wrong, I went back to my old Sunday school days. "Then how come there are only ten travelers?" I asked. "Shouldn't there be twelve? Or thirteen, I guess?"
Press smiled. "What of your acolytes?"
Furiously I counted and still came up short. "Missing one," I said triumphantly. No way this was real. But as you'll see, Mark, Courtney, I was about to be proven wrong. Very wrong.
"You're forgetting Nevva."
"Nevva's not my disciple!" I ground out, stabbing a finger at where her timeline split off from mine to go circle Saint Dane's. "She's a traitor!"
Hook, line, and sinker. "Your own personal Judas, you mean."
That brought me up short, and the both of us were quiet as I traced timeline after timeline, mourning at the end of Kasha's and trying to see where Spader's and Gunny's might rejoin mine. I also noticed the fascinating gap between one half of Loor's and the other. When she'd died. When I'd revived her from the dead.
As if reading my mind (oh God, Mark, if he's God, he probably was), Press said, "You've done miracles, like with your Lady Lazarus. You've saved lives. You've fought the devil. You've accepted some truly fantastic things. Why not this last one?"
But I was too busy choking on one of his earlier points. "Saint Dane is the devil?" Well, I won't deny that he's kind of demonic. And batshit insane.
"Yes. Didn't his name give you that idea? Even his name sounds satanic. He picked that himself, you know."
"What was his name before that?"
I sighed, letting myself fall back onto my butt so I could sit and still look at all the lines. "Next you're going to tell me that's a play on Lucifer."
Press nodded amiably. "You catch on quick."
This was just too weird for me. With a sigh I waved my hand. "Keep going. Who else is a stand in? Is Mark Mark?"
"No, Peter. He did disown you thrice, after all."
"And Kasha? I don't remember Jesus hanging around with any large predators."
Swirling the mist about with his hands, Press blinked. Strange. What god needs to blink? "Bobby, you must realize that shape and name doesn't matter, only the part left to play. Look at your friend Siry."
Maybe I was going crazy, or maybe I was just seeing the light. Either way some of what he said was starting to make sense. "What about Siry? No way he's a holy figure."
"Oh, certainly he started out a little rough on the edges, but once you made him see things your way, he was a good guy, right?"
"I'm not seeing the correlation, Uncle Press."
"Call me Dad. And he changed his name after Pilgrims of Rayne. Goes by Piry now."
I'm still reeling from all these revelations, but there was no way not to accept them. Particularly when Uncle Press stood and clapped on the lights. Suddenly the place was filled, no, bathed in these brilliant, blinding lights, just like in the beginning.
He must have turned on the surround sound too, because when he spoke it was like his voice was coming from all around the huge room. "It is time, Bobby."
I stood as well, nearly tripping over my own feet in my haste to rise. "Time for what?" I asked nervously.
"Time to go back to Second Earth. Time to defeat Saint Dane once and for all."
"I feel like this wasn't part of my Sunday school stories," I said cautiously, but it was already too late. The fog was swirling around me, rising up my body to my chest, and then to my head. Through the gloom Uncle Press's voice boomed one last time.
"Do not worry, Bobby. It is all part of My plan."
In case you're not so hot on the religion thing, here's the scoop. All of this is straight out of Christian mythology.
Bobby is Jesus, Press is God, the Travelers/acolytes are disciples, Nevva is Judas, Loor is Lazarus/disciple, Mark is Peter, Siry is Paul, and Saint Dane is the devil.