WHO ARE YOU?
Coraline closed her eyes, lost in the face of this monster beyond monsters. The Storm-Bringer opened them again.
"I'm Coraline Jones," she said, her hands on her hips and her gaze chiselled from stone. "And you are intruding upon my territory."
Yog-Sothoth seemed to ignore her, its faces showing no reaction to her words. Thousands of faces amongst the countless shifting circles flared brightly and drifted closer, their different expressions betraying curiosity and appraisal and contempt and, on a handful of them, a distinct uncertainty.
WHAT ARE YOU? YOU … ARE WRONG. YOUR WILL IS THAT OF A MORTAL, BUT YOUR PRESENCE IS THAT OF ONE OF THE OUTER GODS. EXPLAIN YOURSELF.
"Easily," said Coraline. "I took the power of a god from one of you. I sought out the Necronomicon, and I tore its power from its heart and claimed it as my own. And then I fought Nyarlathotep, and I killed him as well."
Other faces appeared amidst the miasma, some betraying surprise, others radiating satisfaction and even some showing boredom.
THE NECRONOMICON'S DEATH DOES NOT SURPRISE US. IT WAS MORTAL-MADE, CORRUPTED AND DEBASED SINCE BIRTH. BUT YOUR DEFEAT OF NYARLATHOTEP IS MORE SURPRISING. The faces bored down into Coraline through narrowed eyes, and then there was a collective shrug. HIS REACH ALWAYS EXCEEDED HIS GRASP. PERHAPS HE HAS SOME DORMANT PLAN TO RESURRECT HIMSELF FROM STAR-MATTER, BUT WE DOUBT IT. HIS FASCINATION WITH MORTALS WAS ONLY EXCEEDED BY HIS ARROGANCE, AND HE WOULD HAVE SCORNED SUCH SAFEGUARDS.
TELL US, the faces said as one, all blazing in the void and weaving the voice of Yog-Sothoth from all of theirs united. WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SPEAK OF "YOUR TERRITORY"?
"Earth is mine," said Coraline. "It's where I was born, it's where I lived, and it's where I and my species shed our blood in its defence against you and your kind. I lost my parents and I killed two Outer Gods in retaliation. I claim it as mine by dint of my power and my duty to it, and I shall fight any who threaten it. Including you." There, she thought. That sounded suitably determined and heroic.
It didn't have much effect on Yog-Sothoth, whose faces just regarded her as they would an alien creature.
YOUR CLAIM IS MEANINGLESS, they said. ALL THINGS ARE OURS. THE EARTH, HUMANITY, YOURSELF, ALL ARE OURS AND ALL COMPOSE OUR WHOLE. THE VOIDS OF SPACE ARE OURS. THE STARS LIVE AND DIE BY OUR DECREE. WE ARE LEGION, FOR WE ARE ALL THAT EXISTS, AND IT IS OUR WILL THAT YOUR PLANET BECOME NOTHING. YOU CANNOT STOP US. WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY YOU WISH TO.
"Because it's my home," growled Coraline. "Because it's the home to billions of living, thinking, creating people who stand opposed to you and all your ideals. You'd snuff out a light in the darkness because of a whim. You'd kill a songbird amidst silence because it interfered with a pattern of your making. And you could do anything like that whenever you liked until now. I've got the power of a god that I'm ready to use to destroy you, and I'm getting the hang of it already. And that makes me responsible for defending earth against that which it can't handle on its own. "With great power comes great responsibility." Spiderman said that, you know," she added judiciously.
Yog-Sothoth absorbed the declaration, took it apart in its mind, tried to understand it, gave up on some bits, and latched onto one important detail that it was clear that this impertinent new god had missed.
BUT YOU CANNOT DESTROY US, said a million faces looking down condescendingly at Coraline. THAT WOULD DESTROY THE UNIVERSE.
"Congruous with all space and time," piped up Lovecraft from the back of Coraline's memory, the only noise in Coraline's shocked mind. If Lovecraft hadn't been mistaken, and Yog-Sothoth wasn't lying – and what creature with the capacity to remake reality with a thought would feel the need to lie? - then all her effort could be for nought.
But another part of her mind said "So what if we can't kill it? That doesn't mean we can't hurt it. So hurt it already."
Coraline breathed out, preparing her next move carefully. She planned it around the insight offered by that part of her mind. If she was right, she might win yet … and if not …
How could she take it on? It encompassed the entirety of reality and beyond, and the power it could bring to bear was presumably infinite … if it got a chance to draw upon all of it. Before then, it would have to draw itself together, and would only use staggering amounts of power rather than overwhelming amounts. If she could get in one powerful, precise, and swift strike before it even started moving – but where would she strike?
It was all things, but it had a mind, that much was clear. Somewhere amidst its endless coils of encroaching void-matter, there must be something she could take out that would cripple it. There had to be some vital artery in the pathway of its being or some node she could rip apart. That would be what her victory would depend upon. Assuming it had such a thing. Assuming she could find it before Yog-Sothoth destroyed her. Assuming it wasn't ready to destroy her there and then.
So, in summary; all she had to do was fight a terrible battle based on uncertain theories against nigh-impossible odds in order to preserve everything she had ever known.
Oh, good. No pressure.
No second chances.
No real hope of victory.
And no quarter given.
She summoned all the power left to her and drew it around her in shifting coils and bands of coruscating electric-blue light. She became a star of pure light and power suspended in infinite darkness, and the faces of Yog-Sothoth showed anticipation and confusion and anger.
WHAT DO YOU IMAGINE YOU ARE-
She loosed herself then, blazing into the night with the force of a shooting star and scarring a white-hot line across space. The faces blurred closer, and all raged at her progress.
YOU SHALL NOT WIN, screamed a million mouths. YOU ABOMINATE ALL THAT IS ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE. YOU SHALL KNOW SUCH AGONIES AS CANNOT BE ENDURED FOR A THOUSAND TIMES A THOUSAND AEONS. YOU SHALL BURN ALONG WITH YOUR WORLD, YOUR SPECIES, YOUR HOPES.
YOU. CANNOT. WIN! And at the height of its roar, Coraline hammered through the barrier of faces.
Time stood still for one moment there, as fracture lines skidded up and across the faces spreading to infinity, as the first line of Yog-Sothoth's will met Coraline, as the faces held for but a moment and delayed Coraline's progress for but a fraction of a nanosecond...
...And then the wall descended in thin shattered fragments, each face-fragment screaming as it fell in a shower that was far behind the accelerating Coraline. The howl of the greatest of all gods sounded across all space as she shot on and into the heart of the storm that awaited her.
Everywhere there was darkness. Everywhere there was chaos, but not an undirected and mindless chaos, rather, a directed and focused chaos that erupted all around her. It struck out and clutched at her as she rocketed further into the heart of Yog-Sothoth, a screaming maelstrom within an impossibly vast labyrinth within a much, much greater being that was now entirely driving down on her and her alone.
Winds howled in the darkness, and screams followed Coraline's wake.
She sped onwards through twisting and tightening circular tunnels coated with waving tendrils like villi in a gut. They snatched at her feet, they lunged forwards to crush her between their bulk, and time warped around her as she threw everything she had into simply surviving and moving onwards.
A section of tunnel tightened swiftly around her, and she had to put on an extra burst of speed to avoid being ground to a pulp between the clashing walls. A great tendril loomed up and swept down towards her, and she curved and leapt through the air, avoiding its downswing by inches. A smaller tendril lashed up from the bottom of the dank tunnel, and she barely knocked it away with a desperate swipe of mental power.
She didn't know how far she had to go, and she was losing power by the second, and the walls were tightening, and Yog-Sothoth's laughter was echoing in the increasingly cramped confines, and the tendrils...
...The tendrils were becoming damn claws.
Crooked and warped and shadowy hooks and claws and stick-like fingers were cracking and peeling out from the tendrils, and they were growing larger and larger and they snatched and grabbed for her. She scraped between two, and hammered straight into an upheld palm and burst through it with a sudden all-out assault of clawing, frantic energy, but was disorientated enough so that she only just missed the next oncoming one.
She kept on moving, and frantically bent and buckled time around her once more and moved faster and faster as she rounded a sharp corner and sped down another short section of tunnel and lurched down the left fork at a crossroads in the endless winding tunnels. The walls and floors and ceilings changed position as she span in the air to avoid the grabbing tendrils, and behind her a huge mass of oncoming tendrils had taken form. They had become a vast, dark, writhing hand that filled the world behind her. She struggled to stay ahead of it, and on more than a few occasions during her dark flight one of the fingers came within a few feet of seizing her. It scuttled down the tunnels like a gargantuan spider, and one finger after another would strike out at her.
Tight tunnels and the small crevices Coraline would sometimes dash through were no obstacle to it, as it simply shed excess tendrils and tore new ones out of the wall to its form in due course.
And even as Coraline sped onwards and fought and struggled and struck out with magic, she still concentrated on a small part of her that urged her onwards, that raised its head above the raging waters of emotion and hearkened to some distant call and directed her onwards.
Left, it would say, and she would take a turning to the left. Strike, it would say, and she would tear through a section of the wall and burst through into a new tunnel. Guided by those impulses, and bolstered by her magic, and fueled with her fury, she charged on to the heart of Yog-Sothoth.
Right, it whispered, and she turned and found herself staring into a vast, wide corridor that ended at a great writhing wall of tendrils. She gathered her strength and rocketed downwards at an appreciable fraction of light-speed that still made the opposing wall move closer in her view too slowly. Behind her, the great hand rounded the corner and pounced, its fingers outspread and its nails as sharp and long as claws.
In front of her, as she moved closer to the end, the tendrils coating the wall suddenly coalesced and took the form of a hand as well in less than an instant. She watched as it leapt forward as well, and as it blurred towards her and the space around her darkened with the shadows of the oncoming hands...
… she straightened and shot upwards at the most extreme of angles and twisted...
… and cleared the space between the bases of the index and middle fingers with exactly no room to spare, scraping the tip of her nose as she forced her way between them. She pushed at the limits of her energy once more, and became a lightning-shod missile streaking through the darkness as the two hands crashed into each other behind her.
But instead of disintegrating in the air upon contact, the second hand merely insinuated into the first, and now there was one great hand hurtling towards Coraline with the force of a million wrecking balls.
It was all but upon her, but she was nearly at the wall, and the directing voice screamed Strike!, and she struck through the few writhing tendrils and lanced into the wall-matter with all the force allowed her.
She tumbled through the hole she had made, and the bulk hand impacted into the wall, with only a few stray tendrils struggling to pull themselves free and follow her through.
A great roar of fury and frustration tore loose from Yog-Sothoth, and echoed and reverberated throughout space and time, and originated from the chamber in which Coraline now hovered.
She was at one of the sides in a great sphere, the walls of which were lined with yet more waving tendrils, a great waving sea of horrors waving on all sides and across all dimensions. The top and base were distant, and the opposite side was so far away as to reduce the tendrils to a black-grey blur. And in the centre, on a thin black marble circle that was suspended on thin air, something glowed.
She shot forwards, aiming for the circle, and the walls moved with her. The titanic will of Yog-Sothoth had finally begun to awaken in full, and the great sweep of its power prepared to come crashing down upon the intruder at its core. Coraline out-stripped them, the contents within the circle holding all of her attention and focusing her will to one burning point that manifested in a thought that held the court of her mind: I shall get to that circle. It is the key.
She left a streak of white fire behind her path to the circle, a streak that that was swallowed as quickly as it appeared by the expanding wall of wall of waving tendrils. But it was no longer a wall, but rather a great oncoming force of utter destruction, given will and malice towards the spark of light at darkness's heart.
She shot across the last expanse in less than a twinkling and alighted on the circle with both feet firmly down. Coraline lost no speed, using her past momentum to propel her to the circle's centre. At it, something circular and football-sized twinkled like a jewel.
She saw it more clearly as she drew near, and saw that it seemed to be a massive diamond, many-faceted and reflecting the sparse light in the vast room a thousand-fold. At its centre, amidst its crystalline folds, something dark stirred and slithered. On the mental realm, it was a beacon of pure blazing power. It was like staring into the heart of a supernova. No. Like a black hole. It was the conduit for all the void-matter around her, for the will of Yog-Sothoth.
She stopped before, drew the rapier from her back, strengthened it with magic, and rammed it straight at the crystal.
A chip flew out of the crystal and a fine crack appeared, but it was otherwise unharmed. The darkness within twisted and flurried within the crystal, exited by the action. The all-surrounding tendrils roared closer.
"BREAK, DAMN YOU!" screamed Coraline, frantically bringing the rapier upon the crystal again and again, hacking away chips and flecks and opening new tiny cracks in the surface. The last remnants of her godly power tensed and watched the oncoming tendrils.
And as they screamed closer and came within spitting distance, the Storm-Bringer exploded outwards in a mad medley of striking bolts and a whirlwind of lightning, shuddering and halting the dark tide of power in its tracks. The storm then lashed outwards once more like a caged and enraged tiger with blazing claws. The will of Yog-Sothoth reeled back and gathered itself, and them hammered down once more, a brutal sledge-hammer swipe that broke across the coruscating shell of lightning and locked horns with it in a vicious grapple.
The sword spun and flashed in Coraline's hands, tearing at the crystal with all of her fury and determination. It stabbed once, twice, thrice, into the same spot, opening a crack further and deeper. And for the last time, Coraline drew the blade back. It was still in her hands, and she drew energy into it so that it rippled in the physical world, unable to contain the power that came off it in waves. The storm around Coraline faded, and Yog-Sothoth hesitated, unsure if this was its chance to win, or whether this was some gambit from its surprisingly determined opponent.
It decided on the former, and Yog-Sothoth drove forwards with all of its might as Coraline drove forward with hers.
In the second last instant before the battle ended, the dark tendrils tore down through the space previously held by the storm, dark lines stitching through the fading blue-white glow, while the sword in Coraline's grasp punched through the crystal and into the folds behind.
And in the last instant, the tendrils swept down and seized at Coraline, as her sword point skewered the dark writhing shadow and pinned it to the crystal wall.
And then all went white.
Blankness extended in all directions.
But it wasn't the chilly blankness of the absence of matter in the Outer Realms, but the sort of white expanse that suggests that there's so much matter and energy and reality around that it overloads even the universe's senses.
It slowly faded, shading to grey in some areas, and steadily darkened across the entire expanse while small points remained white.
The blackness faded and became space. The points remained and became stars.
And in what had been the centre of the white expanse, Coraline remained standing. Her eyes burned. Her sword gleamed, those areas of it that weren't covered by a writhing black thing that fought futilely to break free. Around her, lightning cracked and sizzled in the vacuum of space.
She leaned in close to the thing on her sword. Her eyes narrowed to pinpricks of white-hot anger that filled her mind like a gathering storm.
"Listen closely," she said in a chilling flat tone, "And listen well."
YOU DARE- thundered the thing before a mental cuff knocked it flat.
"I won't kill you," said Coraline. "You're a lynchpin for reality, much as I wish you weren't, and you've got to stay alive. So be it."
"But know this, Yog-Sothoth" she snarled, drawing closer to the sword blade, "The defeat I've dealt you today can and will be repeated if you or any other Outer Gods dares to touch Earth. I've seen the worst you have to offer, and I'm not impressed. And there'll be more like me on the way. You've not stopped humanity. We'll rebuild. We'll grow. We'll expand. And we'll become gods in our own right. You can't hurt us any more. You can't stop us any more."
"So go, Yog-Sothoth. Go and spread the word to whatever gods are left. We're rising and we'll never stop. Take mindless Azathoth and whatever scraps of power you've got left and I'll leave you alone to find a pocket of the universe in which we'll never find you. For if you ever strike at us again, if you ever reclaim your old power and use it to wage war on humanity, then I will find you and I'll show you hell. I'll break you a thousand times and I'll leave you broken and bleeding and cursing the day that your kind ever discover humanity."
"Your time is over, now and forever until the universe becomes dust and nothing once more and humanity dies out, and then you can slink out with your scars to reclaim what is left. But until then, you will stay dormant and silent. It's the least you deserve for all those aeons you tortured and played with mortals like a cat with a mouse. But this is our aeon. This, and all the aeons after."
She flicked the blade with contempt, and the little scrap of nothing flew off and struggled through space.
THERE WILL BE A RECKONING YET, STORM-BRINGER. THE GODS STILL RULE SUPREME, AND WE SHALL FOR ALL TIME. YOU AND YOUR FILTHY KIND SHALL PERISH IN YOUR OWN FIRES.
"Not today, and likely never," snapped Coraline. "Now begone."
The wounded husk of Yog-Sothoth flickered and sped away. It became smaller and smaller, and then became a point of darkness on the horizon, and then nothing at all.
Only then did Coraline allow herself to sag with exhaustion. She needed a rest as she had never needed one before.
But she would only allow herself a short one. She had one hell of a mess to clear up when she got back home.
Along a pleasant leafy path walked Wybie Lovat, with a clipboard and pencil in hand.
The grounds of the UN Headquarters were lovely in the autumn, and especially in the early morning sun. Trees turned the ground scarlet and gold, and the late-blooming flowers from a hundred different nations formed a tapestry of exotic colour across the grass.
It was just a week after the end of the Incursion, and already even the weather was trying to make amends. There had been a spell of days without a single cloud and where the sun bathed New York in soft and undying light. This was only a good thing for this part of the world, though. His face grew grim as he scanned the statistics for food shortages in the new People's Republic of West Africa. Some areas were going to need every cloud they could get.
There was a soft crack behind him, and he turned slowly, unconcerned. Then he caught a glimpse of the figure behind him, and he turned rather more quickly. His clipboard fell and the papers within fluttered to the ground.
"Coraline?" he said uncertainly.
"Before you say anything else, Wybie, just tell me one thing," said Coraline. "How long have I been away?"
"What? Oh … About a week."
"Okay, that's not too bad. Where are we? The UN building?"
"Yes. I'm Howard's assistant for the duration of the recovery effort," said Wybie with a touch of pride. He then remembered the fallen clipboard, and the next few minutes were spent in pursuit of the drifting papers.
"So, do I even need to ask the obvious?" he said afterwards, smiling and panting with exertion.
"We've won," said Coraline. "We've won. Yog-Sothoth won't be a threat any more. Nothing about the Outer Realms will ever be again."
"And are you still a … um … a god?"
"Let's go find Lovecraft and whatever meeting he'll be in," said Coraline, linking her arm around Wybie's. "I'll tell you about it on the way."
And they walked off together, arm in arm, both looking in different ways to rebuild humanity.
One, even as he spoke and laughed, laid out banks of numbers in his minds and the implications of the numbers. His mind worked over structures, guidelines, demographics, rules to put in place, ways to rebuild and leave a foundation that would raise humanity to its past level and beyond. His thoughts pushed humanity onwards.
The other, even as she spoke and laughed , looked outwards and scanned the horizon for the things against which humanity could not guard itself. The makings of a hurricane in the south Atlantic were dispersed with a thought. A well infected with cholera in Georgia was cleansed before a family could drink from it. Her will pulled humanity up.
They walked on along the path, secure at last against the old terrors, and with gazes set on the distant future and into the rising sun.
Well, that's that over and done with.
Writing this was different from how I imagined it would go. Stories have a habit of coiling out of control whenever you take your gaze off them, and this one especially, being my first fanfiction and first piece of writing of appreciable length, kept changing and venturing into strange new territories as I was writing it. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and tremendous fun in equal measures. I'd repeat it in a heartbeat.
It also has the dubious honour of being the first piece of fiction I ever put into a public medium, and to my immense gratification it got a lot of positive feedback and constructive criticism.
On this note, I would like to thank everyone, on the internet and off it, who commented on it and encouraged me and helped me refine my style as I wrote it. Especial thanks go to Model Builder, another writer on this site, who provided invaluable commentary and advice all throughout the process of writing it. His advice was especially welcomed as he has experience in writing cross-over fics himself, two of which can be found on this website.
Thanks goes also towards Neil Gaiman, Henry Selick, and Howard Philips Lovecraft, all of whom are or were far better in their craft than I could ever hope to be, and whose works continue to inspire fanfiction and fanart across the internet.
And last but not least, thanks goes out to you, for reading this far and paying me the best compliment I could wish for.