"You don't look so good."
Clyde grunted his agreement. Since the rush of becoming his super-hero alterego, he'd been steadily feeling worse for the past—God, he didn't even know how long they'd been walking. Nor, he realized, did he have any idea who'd just commented on his well-being.
It was weird looking at people with his altered eyesight. He could see where their blood burned hottest.
"Clyde? Dude?" Kyle took a step back. "You're freakin' me out a little. You keep staring at me."
Like he's food.
Like he's what?
Clyde blinked, shaking his head and pulling the helmet off. His hair was slick, his forehead was hot, but he felt so cold. The worst part was, he knew exactly what was going on, because he'd created the very character he'd become. This was all going to be a battle of willpower. "I'm fine, Kite, don't worry about it."
"Well, if you're sure..." Kyle reached over, giving him a tentative pat on the shoulder before hurrying to catch up with the others.
How long HAD passed? Clyde tried to comprehend the passage of time, but with as ill as he was feeling, it was impossible. He knew that the reason there were no longer many spawn bearing down on them was that Kyle could now shoot them with his laser eyes and hurt them badly enough that they felt it better to keep their distance. They still lurked, though. Clyde could see their heat like most people saw the landscape around them. The vast majority of the spawn weren't visible... Except to someone who could see them in a different way.
"Kyle!" He pointed. Kyle turned just in time to raise his visor and blast the beast that had been stalking them invisibly into oblivion.
The thing that had done this to him said that this gift of powers was both a blessing and a curse. Well, Clyde's curse was obvious, but Kyle didn't seem to have one, which wasn't fair. Just because Kyle hadn't written any weaknesses into his super hero story didn't mean he shouldn't have a few! Maybe he was meant to be the curse, while Kyle was meant to be the blessing.
God, the rage.
No, it wasn't rage.
It was like a blissful nothingness that made his head swim momentarily. The worst part of everything that happened next – for which Clyde knew he was responsible – was that he could have prevented it, and he could have stopped it at any time. Every move his body made, every single demonstration of the raw reactive power of the simple mosquito, every pulse of strength and power—It was all preventable. And he saw it all play out in front of him like a script, even before it happened, because he could anticipate all their movements. Guess what they'd do next, and how to try to stop him. The helmet fell from his fingers, and he dodged between a forest of other people on his way to Kyle.
The relief when his teeth sunk into his classmate's arm was instantaneous. He drank deeply, and when Kyle tried to fight, Clyde simply threw the boy several feet away from him. He could hear the sound of shattering glass, and the screams of the others as the sizzling string of lasers beamed around them, out of control. Earth erupted around him, but his next target already struggled in his grasp.
Clyde shook him like a rag doll before throwing him away, too.
"Aaah! It – it itches! Don't let him—Oh, hamburgers! Guys, he's—Look out, Stan!"
He felt something sharp cut into his chest. Instinct dictated that he move on to an easier target, and so he wheeled around, searching for the hottest place he could find. The hottest blood he could see. He could SEE. So many colors...
Mosquito's one weakness was one he shared with his insect kin. He had to feed on blood, or he would enter this frenzy. On paper, it was cool. Edgy. Angsty. Despite the fact that his teeth had just managed to clip Token's neck, Clyde still found himself wishing that he would have given Mosquito less of a god-damned disadvantage.
Mysterion's boot collided with his chest. It was a lucky shot that he'd managed to get in only because there was so much happening at once. That tiny bit of luck ended up being Clyde's undoing. He yelped as Timmy's wheelchair pinned him to the ground by one hand, as Cartman's immense weight further limited his movement, and finally, as someone had the grand idea to hit him upside the head.
"Oooh, ow. Owwie..."
"You okay, Butters?"
"Kyle!? Jesus! Holy shit, Kyle!"
"Fucking Clyde! I knew we should have made him stay home!"
The scene was chaos. Token and Bradley were holding Cartman back as he tried to get to the now unconscious Clyde, who lay sprawled across the ground. Over him stood Kenny, out of breath, holding the helmet that Mosquito had previously discarded. It had already served its purpose as a club, and so Kenny tossed it to the side. "Cut it out, Cartman. He's out. I'm sure."
"He BIT Butters and Kyle! I don't want that freak anywhere near me! God dammit, throw him off a cliff!"
"We'll knock you out, too, if we have to," Kenny said calmly, biting his lip and crouching next to Clyde. He'd just suddenly snapped without any provocation that he could note, which was very unlike him.
He turned his head as a sort of strangled sob came from behind.
"It's okay, dude. Just keep your eyes closed," Stan said to Kyle, who was kneeling just an inch above the ground, almost prone, amid the ruins of his helmet. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"It's okay!? It's okay, Stan!?"
"Well—Okay, it's not—It's not exactly okay..." Stan pushed tousled blonde hair out of his face and kneeled down next to his best friend. "Just... Don't move. Give me a sec here..." he muttered, picking up one of the pieces of glass that lay on the ground. "I'm gonna make a blindfold for you."
The costume that the spawn had created for Kyle included wing-like spans of fabric from his hands to his feet. Using the glass, Stan cut a strip of the cloth away. "All right, you have to take your hands away from your eyes."
Carefully, Kyle did so. He kept his eyes tightly closed all the same. "The cloth isn't gonna keep the lasers from vaporizing someone's—someone's face, Stan!" he said miserably, though he still allowed his friend to tie the cloth around his eyes. "God dammit. God dammit!"
"No, it's not, but at least it'll be a reminder for you to keep your eyes closed." Stan finished tying the blindfold around Kyle's eyes, then took the other boy's arm to help him to his feet. "And we'll all help you get where you're going."
"Leave him behind! Leave him behind with Clyde!"
"Y—you shut up, Eric. If—If it was you..." Butters whimpered, rubbing his shoulder. "Jeez, it itches. If it was you, we'd help you along, too! So..."
Cartman wasn't satisfied. "He's bleeding black blood! Look! That's not natural!"
Not natural. Kenny sighed, turning his attention back toward Clyde as the others argued. Clearly, they couldn't leave anyone behind, but if Clyde was so maddened by what had happened, he'd only end up becoming a liability. But no, the Coon Friends never left anyone behind, not even Cartman. There had to be a reasonable explanation for this. Over the argument, which had risen to shouting level, Kenny called, "Does anyone know what Mosquito's story is?"
"Wul—yeah," Butters said. Everyone seemed surprised that it was he who spoke, which drew a scowl from the former super-villain. "Hey! As a bad guy, I had to, y—you know, read up on the heroes. Know what I was up against. S—so one day at school I asked Clyde about Mosquito's history... and stuff."
"Timmeh?" Timmy prompted.
"Well, he was... he was bit by a radioactive mosquito, see. An' it gave him super strength and reaction time and he could fly and stuff but he's like a... a vampire I guess. He has to drink blood or—or he goes crazy an' bites people."
"Goes crazy and bites people!?" Cartman exclaimed. "Who gives their super-hero badass selves fucking weaknesses like that?!"
"I'd say someone who knows how to write a well-rounded character, fatass, but you got well-rounded covered, and you're still an idiot," Kyle replied.
As the argument resumed, Kenny rubbed his chin. "Hey. Token," he said, as a plan came to mind.
His unconsciousness was uncomfortable, because the hunger still burned. He needed to eat, or he'd be of no use to any of them. Didn't they understand that? No. Wait.
He'd hurt them, hadn't he?
Why should they have to make sacrifices for him?
"Hey. I think he's coming to."
"Hold it out. It has to be the first thing he sees!"
Clyde blinked his eyes open. Automatically, he reached for the plastic bowl. The intoxicating stench – he couldn't call it an aroma or a smell, really, because it STUNK – was too much for him to ignore. Before he knew what he was really doing, he drank it. It could have been poison.
"Fff—hhhh." Clyde threw the bowl aside. Reaching down to his chest, he could feel the open wound where Stan's one weapon, a power drill, had managed to pierce a good couple inches down. The blood was cold, strange, alien. "I—Think I'm..." He noticed that the worried expressions that the others had for him were quickly becoming somewhat angrier. Feeling that his next words would either save or damn him, the only thing he could manage to squeak out was "I'm so, SO sorry."
"It's okay." Kyle.
"Okay? Are you stupider than usual?" Cartman turned away from Clyde to look at the other super-powered kid. "He tried to eat you!"
Still dizzy from the blow to the head, Clyde shifted a bit until he was more comfortable. They'd leaned him against a rock, which helped him at least decipher up from down a little more easily, since it was an anchor in a world that just seemed to keep spinning around him. Eventually, he found Kyle among the others; the Human Kite had been blindfolded. Disturbed, and somewhat panicked, Clyde also noticed a mess of black blood that stained most of the green and purple uniform down one arm and across his chest. Every once in awhile, Kyle would reach up to scratch at the wound.
Because mosquito bites were itchy.
"Shut up, Cartman," Mysterion said.
Stan stood next to Kyle, one hand on his friend's shoulder. Clearly, Toolshed was rather unhappy with what happened, judging by the looks-could-kill stare he wore.
"Look," Kyle went on. "The thing that did this to Clyde and me said it would be a curse. So... This was supposed to happen. This is what they were expecting. And we can't let it tear us apart from inside. 'cuz after that, I've really learned something. We're strongest when we work together. We can't let this divide us now. We're so close!"
Clyde could see that Stan was still staring him down. After all, the Human Kite and Toolshed were best friends. In the end, though, Stan just muttered a 'yeah,' and turned away from Clyde.
He took a deep breath, leaning back against the rock and closing his eyes. All Clyde wanted was to take back what he'd done, even if he had to admit that it was pretty awesome. Seriously. He had awesome reaction time! And he could kick so much ass! It was amazing! If it hadn't been against his friends, it would have been even more so.
"H—hey, you're not gonna try to bite me again, are you?"
"Huh?" Clyde asked, opening his eyes. Butters fidgeted in front of him, one hand constantly scratching at a rather ugly wound between his neck and his shoulder. "Oh, geez. Geez, Butters, are you okay?!"
"Y—yeah, it's itchy, and kinda sticky, and you know, gross. But. Uh. I w—wanted to make sure you were okay and stuff."
Realizing that he did feel better, and lacked the insane drive to bite people that he had before he was knocked out, Mosquito was starting to connect the dots. Looking over to the bowl, he noticed for the first time that the inside surface was coated with viscous red. Oh. "Oh. Fuck, what did you guys do!?"
"W—well after Mysterion over there hit you over the head with your own helmet n' knocked you out, we were all... wonderin' what we were gonna do with you. 'Cuz The Coon wanted to feed you too one of the Spawn, and... And most of us didn't think that was fair."
"Yeah, don't mention it. Anyway, you broke Kyle's face thing so Kenny picked up this big piece of glass and he was all, 'well, we'll just use one of Token's bowls and...' ...uh, well." Butters held up his bandaged hand. "We all did it. We thought that if... if you had enough that you'd stop bein' all c—crazy an' tryin' to eat people and such, so that's... that's what we thought."
At first, Clyde was kind of touched by what they'd all done for him. Then he realized exactly what he'd done – what they'd given him – and felt the sudden urge to vomit. He covered his mouth.
"Now—don't go doin' that!" Butters yelled. "We only got so much blood in us and if you... Get rid of it all, we're gonna have to go with Eric's plan!"
He wasn't ever going to live this down. He wasn't ever going to god-damned live this down!
Mysterion appeared behind Butters. His cape was torn, and judging by the colour of the bandages on everyone's hands, Clyde could guess why it was in such bad shape. "Are you all right to go on now?" he asked.
Rubbing his head again, Clyde pushed himself to his feet. Other than being a little wobbly, he was all right. Eating had definitely helped. "Let's get this over with. I want to go home."
"C'mon, Mosquito," Butters said. "Got your helmet here."
Blank-faced, Clyde reached out and took it, turning the face toward him so he could actually look at it for the first time. The thing looked evil, though it was almost how he'd always pictured it would look. Despite the fact that it did look so villainous, it also looked damn cool, and, as Clyde didn't feel very cool at the moment – in fact, he felt as if he were a total one-eighty of cool – he tossed the helmet aside, leaving it behind as they moved on.
Being unable to see was frightening. It would have been bad enough if they were at home, but here, in R'lyeh, it was even scarier. Though Kyle wasn't above relying on other people for help, he would have liked to be able to use his own eyes see where he was going, especially because his feet never really ever touched the ground as he walked. In addition to being blinded, he couldn't feel if the earth was going to fall out from under his feet! Sure, he could fly at the moment, but that was beside the point.
So he had a long time to dwell on the blackness. Stan's hand was always on one of his shoulders. Timmy had taken it upon himself to stay right in front of Kyle, so the sound from his electric wheelchair kept him going in the right direction. Maybe it was because he knew he couldn't see that sounds started becoming much more interesting to him, even if they weren't necessarily clearer. He just listened more intently to them, and he imagined that, in some form, he was learning to guide himself by the sounds he was hearing. Behind them was the constant drone that seemed to come from the beacon of hellish light that they'd started to head toward when Mint-Berry Crunch first brought them here. If that was behind them, they were going the right way. To his right, there was a very sharp drop-off into what looked to be a bottomless pit. It sounded very wide and open; nothing ever echoed from that direction. If that was to his right, he was going the right way.
Then, far ahead of Timmy came the unharmonious sounds of Cartman's constant bitching.
Kyle drowned that out, since he was used to both hearing it and subsequently ignoring it.
"How're you doing?" Stan asked after awhile. It was weird just hearing his voice without being able to see him. At least the Toolshed uniform made him look a little less like Kenny. Now, there really was no way to tell.
"Scared, I guess. You?"
"Uh. About the same, I guess."
"How close are we?"
There was a short pause. Kyle imagined that Stan was figuring out a way to put the distance to the obelisk into a descriptive enough statement so that someone who couldn't see could imagine it. "We're close," was his eventual response. "The monster things are still keeping their distance. It's weird, but I think you and Kenny were right. They're leading us somewhere."
In the blackness, Kyle dreamed up an image. The obelisk towering in front of them, the children of the Old One closing in, the sky a blood red roiling tornado of madness and insanity! "I kinda wish I could see it." Through his closed eyelids, he could determine lights and darks, where a glow permeated his peripheral vision and a dark shadow ran through the center. They were standing in its shadow. The great size of the obelisk overwhelmed whatever support structure it had, as it groaned loudly under its own weight. Screeching cries came from nearby, angrily bouncing from rock formations and cliff walls.
"It's pretty weird. I can see Cthulhu all twisted up around it like he's the building itself."
"You're saying 'weird' a lot."
"Well, this place is pretty fucked up, dude."
When he heard the tapping of footsteps behind him, Kyle turned his head, alarmed. His first thought was that one of the Nightmare City's beasts was going to attack them. Instinctively, he tried to find his footing to defend himself, only to remember that he could only touch the ground for very brief couple seconds at a time. His toe touched a smooth slab of stone, instead of the sandy, rocky terrain he was expecting – and had grown used to. It was as if they were walking on polished marble.
"Relax, it's Clyde," Stan said, though his voice radiated worry, and for good reason. Kyle felt the hand on his shoulder tighten briefly, then relax.
"Y'mind if I talk with Kyle for a bit, Stan?" Clyde asked.
"Kyle?" Stan asked.
"Yeah, it's cool. Find out what Kenny's planning or something," Kyle said. Stan released his shoulder and gave it a pat, and for an agony-filled moment, Kyle had no guide at all as he stood on a cushion of air, floating in dead space. Nothing anchored him; if it weren't for the sound around him, he'd have absolutely no connection into reality. He'd just be a thing, in the middle of nowhere. He could hear Stan's footsteps becoming more distant, and he was unable to help the panic that started rising in his chest. Fuck it... he was going to take off that blindfold.
And then Clyde took his shoulder.
"I wouldn't," he said.
Kyle lowered his hands away from the cloth. "It doesn't really matter anyway. I mean, the lasers cut through cloth—" He abruptly stopped speaking as Clyde pulled him out of the way of something in his path. Kyle didn't really care what, though, as long as he didn't trip on it, and so he didn't ask. "—anyway. This is just there to make sure I remember my eyes are deadly weapons."
"Yeah, I guess that's what that thing meant when he said..."
It was hard for Kyle to think of anything to say at the moment. On one hand, he did forgive Clyde for biting him. On the other, it was uncomfortable, itchy, and just one more annoyance in this already annoying day. All he could manage was, "Hey, how are you holding up?"
"Fine, considering you guys all gave me a blood cocktail," he muttered. Kyle could feel him shiver, and, admittedly, the thought of drinking blood made Kyle a little ill himself. "I mean, they did what they had to do, but, dude. Sick."
"It was either that, or Cartman would feed you to the monsters." Out of habit, Kyle glanced in Clyde's direction, almost opening his eyes in the process. It was hard just remembering that he could kill someone just by looking at them, because he wasn't used to having something so powerful in his hands. If he could rework The Human Kite, it would totally be with wind breath or something instead of laser eyes, because... "You know, this really blows."
"Uh-huh. Hey. I ... wanted to apologize."
Kyle shook his head. "Nah, it's cool, Clyde. I mean, I was just in the way, right? I just happened to be the first person you reached."
When Clyde didn't respond, Kyle could feel the beginnings of anger. "...Okay, what the hell, Clyde."
"Nothing. Just... I'm sorry."
"Kyle, I think we're here," Clyde said, still holding onto his shoulder. "I'll explain later. I promise."
They stood together, a group of heroes sent to face down the mighty Cthulhu, all of them here for one purpose – to help their friends! And also to possibly save the multi-universes from utter and complete annihilation, but what did kids care about that, really? Cthulhu's tomb stood at the very tip of an outcropping, the ground around them burned powerfully into a smooth obsidian. At one point, Butters stood on the very edge, looking down into a fiery abyss and declaring himself to be the Lion King, after which it was ruled by all that if Butters did anything else stupid, they were going to tie him up and put him back in jail when they got back home. In fact, it was one of the first unanimous decisions they'd ever had where The Coon was also involved, and it made them feel slightly better about what they were about to face.
It was hot here, as if hell had reached out to touch even this plane. Kenny knew how uncomfortable Hell was, since he had, after all, been there. In some ways, this was worse; one couldn't die in hell. You could be tortured onto the point of death, sure, but it still wasn't final. Whatever happened here would affect all of them forever.
In the center of it all, the obelisk stood like a rude gesture, flipping off God, a challenge, perhaps, or the result of a plea that had gone unanswered. The image of Cthulhu himself seemed to be carved in dramatic relief into the structure; the Old One was writhing in pain, pierced with spears and swords, run through with weapons that none of the kids even had a name for. The expression on his otherworldly face was one of pain and rage.
Kenny reached into his pocket and pulled out the page he had torn from the Necronomicon.
"Hey..." Stan said. "That's..."
Kenny scowled as he unfolded the page, looking at the image on it, then up at the obelisk. It was as if the mad prince that had written the book looked into the future and saw this very thing. It was almost uncanny how one resembled the other. "This is how we free Cthulhu," Kenny said. His fingers touched the words written around the border of the image. Everything was in red – a warning. But this was what they came here to do. In order to get his own body back, in order to spare Stan the pain of having to die over and over, and in order to save earth... This had to be done.
Around them, Cthulhu's children waited, eerily silent.
"I don't think that's a good idea..." Clyde muttered. He came closer, still leading Kyle by one shoulder. For a red-eyed freak and one of the only people in their party with actual super powers, he looked like he was about ready to cry. "You said they were leading us to slaughter. What if they're waiting for whatever you're planning to do there?"
"They are," Kenny said, closing his eyes.
"Jesus," Mint-Berry Crunch said. "Then why would you want to do it?!"
"Look, you guys want to stay trapped in R'lyeh for the rest of your lives?" Stan asked. "Either we do it and we see what happens, or that's how we're gonna spend the rest of our lives. And I can't... I can't live like that. I can't keep..."
Kenny patted his shoulder. Out of all of them, Stan was the only one who could just say 'screw it' and go home, and he knew it, too. He'd chosen to stay, not just because he wanted his own body back, but out of loyalty. It was the polar opposite of The Coon, who was still possibly trying to figure out how to use Kenny's status as the son of a god for his own benefit.
"I practiced the pronunciation at home, before we came," Kenny said. "I figured they used to read this all the time at those cult meetings, so it wouldn't hurt too much if I did it. You guys should probably stand back. I don't know what this is gonna do when we're here."
The others backed away, sticking close together as they allowed Mysterion to hold the sheet from the Necronomicon up toward Cthulhu's tomb. Kenny turned to look back at them once; their eyes were fixed on him, hopeful and scared. They'd already come this far. All he had to do now was read the words on the page, but something besides fear was stopping him. It was an understanding, something he could feel in the air, within the tension of all the other spawn here. Something was wrong – a sense he got all too often while trapped in the Nightmare City.
Lowering the page to his side, he approached the obelisk.
"Kenny, what're you doing?" Butters asked.
"Read the fucking page! I want to go home!" Cartman added.
Narrowing his eyes, Kenny reached forward. The energy coming from the pillar in front of him almost hurt, cutting through him like knives. But where the others might have been killed by this closeness, Kenny felt a sort of kinship from it. It spoke not words, but from it came a wealth of information. How could Cthulhu kill his son? How could he allow something like that to happen? Had he just paved the road for his child to sit upon earth and use it as a throne?
"Whoa," Kenny said. He drew his hand back, only long enough to remove the glove from it, before he reached for the obelisk again. This time, he allowed his fingers to touch it.
Cthulhu could feel his soul.
The outcropping shook, sinking several feet in the span of a second. Everyone too close to the obelisk fell as the smooth obsidian cracked and splintered. The obelisk itself appeared to move... The creature trapped within it awoke, angry. It would kill all of them. Destroy those who put him here, and do to them what they had done to him!
"Kenny! Look out!"
Stan had barely shouted the warning when one of the spawn descended upon Kenny, pinning him to the ground and ripping the page of the Necronomicon from his hands. As it took off into the air again, it gave Kenny enough of a shove that he rolled to the edge of the jutting stone. The only thing that stopped him from going over was Stan and Token, who grabbed his hands and pulled him back up. It was hard for him to find his footing again, since the ground still shook, and as it did, the obelisk started to glow brighter and brighter. Spiderweb cracks appeared in the surface.
"Oh. Dude. That is NOT GOOD," Stan said as he and Token pulled Kenny back toward the others. He pointed backward, in the direction from which they'd come. Rising out of the ground was the creature they'd met earlier – the one who'd told them that they had to head toward the obelisk in the first place. It still shook, its appearance still too unfocused to really see in any detail. As it rose from the earth, it changed, shedding the appearance of one of Cthulhu's children, and taking on the visage of something resembling an old corpse. It also grew, becoming larger and larger until it rivaled the size of the obelisk itself.
The spawn that had taken the page from Kenny's hand perched on its shoulder and allowed this wraith-like thing to take it.
"All you had to do was read the page," it said, voice somehow soft, despite its size. "You would have done our work for us, and trapped the Great Old One forever."
"What the fuck is that?" Kyle asked.
"You mean WHO," the being replied. "I am Ithaqua."
"Oh god, he's gonna kill us," Mint-Berry Crunch whined.
"No, it's okay, he's got to tell us his plan before he can kill us," Kenny whispered. "It means we still have a little time. Stay close. I just need a couple minutes to think this through."
"Think fast, Mysterion," Professor Chaos urged.
"You see," Ithaqua went on. "You brought with you the page from the Necronomicon. I could see that you believed it would free your scion from his prison! Instead, it would have trapped him there forever, allowing me to fully take over this realm, and earn the complete respect of Cthulhu's children! But by touching his prison, you have awakened him!"
Stan tilted his head. "Dude. Why didn't you just, you know, take the page from us in the first place and do it yourself?"
The spawn nearest to the Wraith looked at him, but he could only shrug. "A GOOD QUESTION! And now, I shall read the page from the Necronomicon and trap Cthulhu for all eternity!" An evil-sounding laugh followed, before the creature muttered, "Now, where does this start..."
"Uh, Kenny?" Stan prompted.
"Shut up, I thought he'd have more of a monologue than that. I'm still thinking." He looked up at the Wraith, who was turning the page around, and trying to figure out where the reading actually started. The whole thing went in a circle, with no beginning and no end – it was all just a line of words. It would take some time to figure that out, at least. "Stall him."
Kenny nodded. "C'mon, guys. I still need more time."
None of them were actually in any position to stall a bunch of giant demigods, and so no one could offer up any suggestions for doing so. Eventually, it was Kyle who came up with the idea. "Clyde. Point me at one of those things."
Clyde caught on quickly, and, taking Kyle's shoulders, he aimed the Human Kite at the most imposing looking of Cthulhu's spawn. "All right, now."
Kyle took off his blindfold.
It only took a second for the spawn to vaporize. Able to see now, he attacked creature after creature, but they just kept coming.
"You're just pissing them off now!" Kenny said. Instead of holding back, the beasts were now pushing forward, and while a good many of them were now dead, it seemed that for every one that died, several more came to take its place! "I mean, it was a good thought, but—"
"Well how else are we supposed to stall them!?" Kyle asked, putting the blindfold back on.
"I don't know," Kenny replied. "I have no idea."
It was a horrible amalgamation of creatures that bore down on them. Now that the truth was revealed, none of them seemed compelled to watch from a distance. The lesser spawn turned their eyes to the invader, Ithaqua, as the Wraith towered above them all. They crawled across the entombed form of Cthulhu, irreverent, as clawed hands reached out. The kids huddled together, though backing away from the monsters was really only prolonging the inevitable, and the spawn knew it. They didn't have to rush to kill their prey. After all, they had already lived for an uncountable number of years. They could spend decades torturing the South Park natives before they finally killed them.
The stone form of Cthulhu began to shift, to crack, but the awakening was far too slow. Already, Ithaqua was chanting the words that would seal the Great Old One again, and this time, Mysterion wouldn't be able to awaken him.
Mint-Berry crunch whined. Suddenly, without any means to protect himself, he was no better than any of the other fourth graders. "I want my powers back!" he cried. Toolshed looked back over his shoulder; their friend wasn't running away, but he was truly upset that the dimensional rift had cut off access to his many useful abilities.
"...Huh," Mysterion mused.
"Kenny?" Kyle asked. Still blindfolded, he stood near the center of the group. Despite all their differences, the others seemed to be protecting their friend. Maybe because it was hopeless for any of them to make it out alive.
"You got any more tricks up your ass, now's the time," Cartman added.
"...Brad," Mysterion said.
"I can't! I don't—I don't have my powers. They don't come from this dimension! I'm sorry!" Mint-Berry Crunch gritted his teeth. One of the spawn's hands snaked around his ankle, giving it a tug, and he fell over. The echoing laughter of the gathered beasts filled their ears as he shouted, "Jesus CHRIST!"
Clyde rested a hand on Kyle's shoulder, pulling him away from a tentacle that nearly stole him away. When he spoke, his voice still held the undertone of a droning insect, thanks to the curse that had been placed on him. "If you're gonna give one of those 'you can do it' speeches, Mysterion, save it."
"No, no," Mysterion said, almost gleefully. "Mint-Berry crunch's powers aren't from this dimension, but mine ARE. Stan!"
"What?" Toolshed looked over his shoulder. "Oh, no way, dude. I don't even—I don't think that's—I wouldn't even know how!"
The eyes of the others were on him now. He looked back over his shoulder to see his friends staring at him expectantly. With their guard let down, one of the creatures picked Professor Chaos up by one arm, and dangled him some forty feet in the air.
"Aw—Aw hamburgers! Guys! Get me down from here!"
"You just have to believe it," Bradley said. "You just have to know you can do it!"
"I said, this isn't the time for god-damned 'you can do it' speeches!" Clyde hissed.
"Now, Stan," Kenny urged. "Or else they're gonna eat Butters."
"Fuck," Toolshed muttered, holding out his hand to the thing that held Butters in the air.
He had to believe it. At this moment, he had nothing else to lose; belief was a powerful thing, in that it was so hard to accept something, to believe it, if you didn't know it was real. It was a discerning thing, it held power over religion, it created conspiracy theories and fooled stupid people into following the masses. And now all Stan had to do was earnestly believe that he had super powers. If he couldn't somehow harness Kenny's Cthulhu-given abilities, they were all going to die.
Bradley did it. Mint-Berry Crunch, of all people, actually had super powers. He was from another planet. If the lamest out of all of them could somehow become the most awesome – with the power of mint and berries, no less – than surely Stan could match or surpass THAT.
He held out his hand. "Nothing's happening!"
"You IDIOT," Kenny yelled. "Right now, you are the SON of fucking CTHULU. Stop being an asshole!"
And that's when a shadow simply consumed the creature holding Butters up in the air. The spawn ceased to exist; with his other hand, Toolshed reached for Butters, and a shadow cradled the falling boy and lowered him safely to the ground. He really had no time to parse the fact that he was using shadow and bending it to his very will.
"Dude," TupperWear said. "Sweet."
Kenny cleared his throat. "Sorry about the asshole comment."
"Hey, whatever works," Stan replied. It had been the little push he'd needed, so he couldn't be too upset. And now, the creatures were all fairly confused with this new wrench thrown into their plans.
Taking the opportunity, Stan reached out to another of the spawn, folding his fingers into a fist. The shadowy tendrils that somehow obeyed his command crushed the creature like it was made out of paper.
"Oh god. Jesus," Stan muttered.
"Keep it up, Stan!" Kenny encouraged, looking toward the obelisk as it continued to crack. Giant pieces of stone fell to the ground as the Old One stirred. Within their minds, they could start to feel his presense – angry. Vengeful.
Ithaqua ceased his chanting, turning his attention now to Toolshed.
The Wraith raised his foot, bringing it down toward the huddled group of kids. Seeing this coming, knowing he was the only one who could potentially survive the impact, Stan ran away from the others, and Ithaqua's foot followed. Defensively, he raised his arms above his head, even though it wouldn't do any good. This would crush him, just like the garage did just days before. He'd die, and the others...
Stan couldn't imagine what would happen to the others.
"No!" he yelled.
He felt a force springing from him that was something different than the shadows he'd used to kill. This was closer to the feeling he'd had when he saved Butters, except this was more a part of him. He could see the shadows of the others stretching toward him... The shadows of the rocks raced to his aid, and even the giant swath of darkness that Ithaqua cast across the ground surrounded him like a blanket.
The Wraith's foot pressed against the barrier. For the moment, the shadows formed a force field around Stan, keeping him safe... But with each passing moment, the blackness pressed inward. It couldn't withstand the force of another Old One forever.
It was like being crushed. He had to hold on.
Mysterion could see what was happening. Through breaks in the cloudy shadow blanket, he could tell that Stan was struggling, and the pain was evident on his friend's face. He had to do something, but the only thing he could think of was to dig his fingers into the cracking stone at the base of Cthulhu's prison and start ripping chunks away from it. When this task proved too difficult for a nine-year-old with no super-human strength, he just started beating on the rock with closed fists, instead.
"Can you hear me, you asshole!?" Kenny screamed at the obelisk. "I KNOW you know what happened! I can FEEL it!"
"Don't piss him off, Mysterion!" The Coon shouted.
"Fix this! Now! You owe me that! You fucking owe me that!"
With the Spawn distracted by Stan's sudden manifestation of powers, they didn't care that one of the children was trying to break down an Old One's prison. Kenny continued to beat his fists on the stone, stopping just long enough to look back once, toward Stan...
He couldn't hold out forever. The pressure against the shadowy shield was just too great. Even though the Old One's foot was still high above him, he could feel the crushing force. Spreading his arms out, he tried to concentrate. Tried to keep the shield from caving in. Bloodshot eyes opened, looking toward the tower that Kenny still assaulted; if he could hold out until Cthulhu was freed, the others might be safe...
More stone broke away. The imprisoned Old One opened his eyes.
"Do it now!" Kenny screamed. If Ithaqua managed to kill Stan, that would be it. Only an immortal could kill another immortal... There would be no resurrection. That couldn't happen. Kenny couldn't let that happen. And the worst part was, Stan knew that this death would be forever, and he had still made that sacrifice.
Come on. Come on.
Ithaqua's foot pressed against the shadowy barrier, and finally, it broke, crushing the boy beneath it.
"STAN! Fuck!" Cartman yelled, with more anger than anyone would have expected. "That fucker killed Stan! Cthulhu! Wake up, you god-damned son of a bitch!"
Perhaps seeing his son – his connection to earth and one potential ticket to taking over its corresponding dimension – crushed beneath the foot of a rival god – was enough to awaken him fully, or maybe it was all of Cartman's ire directed at him that caused him to break free from his rocky tomb. The shattering was so powerful, so complete, that the rock that bound him simply turned to dust and floated away.
Ithaqua tried to run, but Cthulhu reached him before anyone could blink; one of the Great Old One's hands wrapped around the Wraith's throat.
-YOU HAVE STOLEN THIS REALM,- the voice boomed. It seemed to reach every corner of the Nightmare City at the same time; the spawn fled from it, and the Wraith, terrified of R'lyeh's lord, pleaded in some incomprehensible language for the release that death would grant.
Plants snaked up from the black earth, wrapping around Ithaqua's legs, piercing white flesh, traveling up the creature's body and through it as it pinned limb and life to the will of Cthulhu. The vines turned to a black obsidian, trapping Ithaqua, still alive, to the ground beneath their feet.
"Hey, isn't that the plant you tried to get me to eat?" Cartman asked.
-YOU WILL REMAIN HERE, ALIVE, FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY,- Cthulhu spoke.
The Wraith cried out, begging the spawn for help, but none came to his aid.
The Old One turned his attention now to the super hero team, perhaps sensing the danger from the two of them that had been given powers by one of his own children. Wordlessly, he offered a subtle, deliberate wave of his hand, which passed over Kyle first, then Clyde. Kyle suddenly ceased floating and unexpectedly became reacquainted with gravity much more quickly than he would have liked. His knees gave out and he stumbled forward, falling to his hands. Without having to worry about shooting lasers anymore, he tore the blindfold from his eyes.
Cartman gestured to the red splatter near the feet of the bound Wraith. Kyle could only stare in horror.
'Mysterion' pushed himself to his feet, breathing deeply. He was dizzy, disoriented, and exhausted, but he still managed to stand without toppling over. Token stood next to him, offering support, and Stan wrapped his arm around the other boy's shoulders. Somehow, just moments before he was crushed, something pulled him back to his own body. "That—That's Kenny. They killed Kenny."
"...Bastards," Kyle muttered.
Trembling fingers pulled back the hood he was wearing, and his own dark hair fell across his face. It was good to be back, but not at the cost of one of his best friends. The others didn't even realize... As Kenny had put it once, on some subconscious level, they all knew he'd come back. But this time, it would be for real, and Stan had no idea whether or not he'd even remember this later. He didn't know how it worked, because for the life of him, he couldn't remember ever having reacted to Kenny dying before. His mind just seemed to be wired to expect Kenny's return.
Right now, though, they had a more pressing problem to consider. Namely, the fact that Cthulhu looked pissed.
It seemed, however, that Cartman knew exactly what to do. Anyone else would have considered standing in front of a horrible evil and waving your arms around to be stupid. However, this seemed to procure a favorable reaction from the Old One, who crouched down to The Coon's level and... Stan could swear that he saw a smile on that octopus-like face. With no fear whatsoever, Cartman crawled up one of the creature's tentacles and stood right between its eyes.
"Cthulhuuuuuu..." Cartman practically purred. "Me and my friends would like to go home noooow? Can you do that for us?" One hand stroked the god's face gently, like one would pet a kitten. As the Old One looked between Cartman and the others, it seemed to be considering... Would it be better for him to return them home as his dear little buddy had asked, or should he keep them all here to act as slaves for the rest of eternity? A tough call, to be sure.
-I WILL RETURN YOU TO YOUR PLANE,- the Great Old One boomed. With a sigh that tousled everyone's hair, he reached up to gently take Cartman, and gave him a very careful hug before returning him to the ground. Cartman smugly arched his eyebrows at Kyle, who could only roll his eyes.
So they had a road home. But what about...
Stan made himself look toward the spot where he'd been standing just a second before the Wraith's foot crashed through the shadow shield. The force was so powerful that there wasn't even a body left behind. What would have happened then? Would Kenny have gone on pretending to be someone else forever? Stan's parents and sister would never have even known that their real son was dead, because no one would have believed it.
What would they tell Kenny's parents? Would anyone ever know how many times Kenny had died? Hell, Stan didn't even know that. How could some kid have that much pressure thrown on him, and not even have any sort of legacy to show for it? Stan understood now, why Kenny always seemed so odd and distant sometimes. Quiet. The worst part was that he never would have gained that understanding if he hadn't died once himself. Maybe he could be thankful for that, at least. And overall, it didn't matter to Stan or anyone else, really, that Kenny was the son of one of the most evil beings in existence, save maybe Ithaqua the Wraith.
As he stood there over the spot where Kenny had given his life, he had no idea that the eyes of the Old One were fixed on him, considering.
"Kenny... You guys. He's a hero," Stan muttered. It was the only eulogy he could think of.
"Dude, you're the hero," Kyle said. "You're the one that used your awesome shadow powers to kick some serious ass. We all would have died without you."
No one would know.
"Wait," Stan said. He actually ran toward Cthulhu, close enough to feel the heat from the massive creature radiating off the rough hide. "No one... No one knows. No one—"
The Old One's red eyes looked down on him, and then away. Cthulhu seemed to ignore him completely. –BEGONE FROM THIS PLACE, AND DO NOT RETURN. YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE IT AGAIN.-
The transition was sudden. He was pulled directly from R'lyeh and into his bedroom, where he opened his eyes in his own bed. He expected to see Cthulhu towering above them, set against the backdrop of a red sky. He expected the Old One's numerous offspring to be staring down at him, forever watching and waiting. He could still feel the power of Ithaqua, the strength he just barely held off... Long enough for Kenny to convince his father to switch them back to their proper places.
Wincing, Stan crawled out of bed, dragging himself over to his dresser mirror. It felt right to see himself there again – black hair, grey-blue eyes, the facial features he'd come to know in his nine years of life. On one hand, it was a relief. On the other...
He rested his forehead against the surface of the dresser. Kenny was gone.
There was a knock on his bedroom door, though his mother opened it anyway, without waiting for a reply. "Oh, I'm glad you're up, dear. It's time for school."
"Yes, I think you've rested long enough. It's time to be getting back." She shut the door again, leaving it open just a crack so she could make sure that Stan didn't crawl back into bed. It was the same as always.
Didn't she realize they'd been gone? Didn't she know that they'd been stuck in the Nightmare City for—How long had it been? It felt like days!
"Hey, Mom? What day is it?" He called.
There was a pause before she replied. "Monday morning! Don't try to tell me it's Sunday. I'm making sure your father doesn't fall for THAT again! Get ready for school, Stanley!"
"Christ," he muttered, running his hand through his hair. Rubbing his eyes, he searched for a comb so he could at least make himself look a little more presentable.
Less than an hour later, he was trudging toward the bus stop, dragging his feet through fresh snowfall, looking down at the ground. Somehow, he had to come up with a way to tell the others what Kenny had gone through in his life, because it was important to Stan that they at least cared. And if they didn't believe him, at least they'd have the idea in their minds that maybe Kenny was a lot different than any of them ever could have imagined. Sure, he was the son of Cthulhu, but he was also their friend, and had dealt with way more than a kid ever should have had to go through.
As he neared the bus stop, he could hear the voices of the others. When he looked up, Cartman and Kyle were arguing at the sign. The latter had the sleeve of his coat pulled up, showing off the place where Clyde had bitten, in order to prove that his blood was no longer black, apparently. At least, that's what Stan was able to glean from the debate.
"Guys, cut it out," Stan said as he came up next to them. His hands were shoved into his pockets. "It's like you guys don't even care."
"The fuck?" Cartman asked. Rubbing his chin, he rolled his eyes back, thinking. "Hey, yeah, I care that after I saved the world, I have to wake up and go to school the next day. I agree with Stan, this is bullshit."
"Yeah. I agree with Cartman," Kyle added. "Mark this down in the history books."
"No, I mean about Kenny."
"Being poor again?" Cartman asked. Kyle elbowed him, but he still continued, "Yeah, I guess he's probably pretty pissed off. Nice going, Stan."
"Uh..." Stan started.
"See? Look, here he comes. Seems pretty upset," Cartman said. "If I weren't afraid of catching poor, I'd ask him to stay over my house for a few days so he could have food for dinner, instead of like, cardboard or whatever—"
"God dammit, Cartman!" Kyle interrupted, as the argument began anew.
Stan glanced in the direction Cartman had pointed, and, indeed, Kenny was shuffling through the snow toward the bus stop, looking at the ground and appearing otherwise completely okay. Sure, he looked tired, too, and somewhat distant, but he was alive! Grunting a greeting, he stood next to Stan, looking up just long enough to arch his eyebrows at the argument, which had now turned to a very heated inquiry as to whether or not Kyle's improved green and purple kite costume had been the result of inner gay. "So we're back to normal, then?" Kenny asked.
"But you—The—At the—"
Kenny blinked. "Are you okay? C'mon, dude. I'm the one who—" He trailed off, though, waving a hand as if to dismiss the thought. Amending, he finished, "Well, I feel like I got crushed, anyway."
He must have been expecting that none of them would recall what happened. Cartman and Kyle certainly didn't appear to, and since it had been the same story for years, why should it be any different now? But something HAD changed. Some sort of floodgate released in Stan's mind, and he came to an abrupt and somewhat disturbing realization.
"Fuck, Kenny. I remember. Every. Single. Time."
Kenny's dark blue eyes widened, as he looked between Stan and the others. "You really do?"
Stan nodded, massaging his temples. "I asked him—I said that... I thought someone should remember. I guess he didn't want his kid having to hold onto that burden alone. And now I... It's like these holes in my memory are fixed."
Had Cthulhu actually heard him? Was it just because he'd been in Kenny's body? The memory overload was such a shock that Stan almost fell backward when the kid who always hid his face behind an orange parka wordlessly threw his arms around his shoulders.
Distracted from arguing, Cartman groaned. "God dammit, you guys! Get a god-damned room!"
And just as suddenly, Kenny gave Stan a shove, clearing his throat. Yes, they were manly men. And manly men did not hug.
"So..." Stan began, as he caught the football.
Kenny took a step back to catch the return pass. It was a few days after they'd returned from R'lyeh, and since their initial moment of realization at the bus stop, neither he nor Stan had brought up the whole thing where Kenny had died hundreds of times. "Look, you've been wanting to ask. Just... Just ask." He threw the football back, and Stan caught it, staring down at it sheepishly. He'd come over with the premise of starting their project over again, but Kenny knew the real reason.
"It's just kind of weird knowing that one of your best friends is the immortal son of Cthulhu." He passed the ball back, and added, "And he's playing pass the football."
"Yeah, well, the immortal son of Cthulhu is nine years old and thinks taking over the world is weak. So."
Stan chuckled. At least the ice was broken. "Did you ever remember the garage collapsing on me?"
Kenny shook his head. "Nah, it's weird. I guess it'd be how the others would feel if they believed me. I kinda feel violated, like someone had their way with my brain and didn't tell me. I mean, it kind of bothers me."
For a few minutes, they threw the ball back and forth, and the conversation devolved into small talk again, before they finally started to touch on what they were going to do about their project for class. Neither of them could afford to buy more plants, though maybe if they did something about memories – and MISSING memories – they could make a decent presentation. Unfortunately, they had absolutely no scientific proof, and the conversation eventually led right back to the elephant in the room – namely, Kenny's immortality.
Bored, Kenny threw the football to one of his dogs, and leaned against the side of his house.
"Like you said... I kind of understand now. I realized it sub-consciously. Like... Sometimes you'd die and Kyle and I just wouldn't... Uh."
"You didn't care." Kenny shrugged. "You don't have to feel bad about it. I mean, it pisses me off sometimes. Like when Kyle needed that kidney transplant and I just wanted you to acknowledge that I fucking died all the fucking time." It was a point that often got to him lately, even though he sort of remained passive on the whole issue normally, sometimes he just wanted to punch someone. He hurt, too, dammit! And having someone ask him if he was okay after the fact would have been really awesome. Instead, all he got half the time was his closest friends ignoring him almost entirely, and Cartman calling him poor. It was really other peoples' non-reactions that grated on him over time, and not the fact that he died over and over. It was amazing how easily he could adapt to pain.
He noticed that Stan was leaning away from him.
"You okay, dude?"
"Yeah. Sorry." Smiling, Kenny pulled his hood back. "I think it'll be okay now. I just wanted someone to remember."
"I still don't GET it," Stan admitted. "At least I don't have to drill you about what it's like."
That was something for which Kenny could be thankful. It was hard to describe what he went through and what he felt. Once, he managed to save the entire planet while he was in hell. Another time, he was commissioned to save all of heaven from Satan's invading armies. They made good stories. Maybe he'd tell Stan someday.
"No. Wait. I do have to ask you about one thing."
"Dude. What was it like having to share Cartman's body with him?"
Kenny grimaced. Along with almost everything else about his deaths, Stan and Kyle had completely forgotten everything about that little adventure. "It's something I WISH I could forget," Kenny grunted. "I remember when I first figured out I could talk through him. It was like waking up. I had no fucking idea what was going on. The whole thing was kind of a blur." Shaking his head, Kenny still managed a smile. "Why couldn't it have been you or Kyle?"
"Because Kyle and I aren't stupid enough to think ashes are chocolate milk mix," Stan replied. And although Kenny chuckled about it, it still felt weird to refer to his friend's remains while talking to said friend. Kenny's laughter turned a bit darker, though, and for the first time, Stan could see the age on his face. Too old.
"You were gone for a long time that time," Stan noted. "When you died from that muscle thing."
Kenny nodded. He didn't know why that time was different, or why it took so long for him to return. He imagined it was some sort of gift... he got a little rest, and then his parents got their son back on Christmas Eve. Of course, no one remembered that he was even gone. To them, he was always there, somewhere. He'd told them he'd just been hanging out. Much easier than trying to explain that you'd been dead.
Stan continued softly. "Well, I just... Thought you should know. We really did care. And I missed you, Ken. Didn't... remember missing you after you showed up again..." He scratched his head, biting his lip. "It's still kind of hard for me to put all the pieces together. Where you were and weren't... Sometimes I remember you being somewhere when I know you weren't there, like there's all these conflicting memories in my head. But we did miss you. I'm glad you're back." He reached over and gave Kenny a pat on the shoulder.
It was all Kenny wanted to hear. It made the whole dying and resurrecting thing so much easier to tolerate, even if it did fucking hurt. Still, he shrugged the shoulder pat off. "Come on. You assholes need me."
Of course, at that moment, the pillar he was leaning on fell over and crushed him. And, adding insult to injury, the awning that said pillar was holding up managed to neatly cut him in half.
Stan had seen iterations of these untimely demises so many times in the past that this one was almost tame in comparison. Still, he stood there, dumbstruck, for several seconds before he managed to collect his thoughts. As he walked away, he looked back over his shoulder.
"See you tomorrow, Kenny."