Scamandros sat staring at his hands, much like how Art and Suzy were similarly posed. Arthur wandered around the study, pacing, and April, September, and December were having an argument in the corner. It started as a quiet one, but their voices raised the more agitated they got, until they were all nearly yelling.
"I'M GOING TO FIND MARCH MYSELF!" April declared.
"I can't let you leave," December said. "You might get hurt."
"It's a little late for 'might,'" snapped April. "Meanwhile, March might be dying!"
"All the more reason. I don't need you dying on me too."
"But we can't stay here forever anyway," said September.
"We can," December griped. "It's not like we need sustenance. They'd have to burn us out."
"I'm a mortal," said Arthur, looking over the tomes lined up in her bookcase. "I need food." As if to accentuate his point, his stomach rumbled.
"Okay, minus him," December said. "Just… let me think for a little. Give me time to come up with a plan to save our hides before we go and get ourselves killed."
"We don't have time!" April protested. "March and May might be dying, and you're not doing anything. You're a coward."
"Yes, I suppose I am," December admitted. "Perhaps that's why I waited so long to break the rules." She gave a meaningful glance at the body of the Acolyte she'd slain when they holed up in the study. "Oh, dear. I better clean that up."
"Your carpet's stained with blood," Suzy said. Scamandros noted that since Arthur had joined up with them, she'd taken to the nickname again.
December's response was a glare. "I see that."
"We could go to the House," Arthur said. "Can't we, Art?"
"Yes," mused the New Architect. "With the Improbable Stair, of course we could. We could use those books of yours to make a staircase."
"By the way," said Arthur, "you have almost every sacred text I've heard of and more. The Koran, the Bible, the Vedas, the Analects… are you into religion?"
"Into religion?" sniffed April. "Now that's a good one. We're the Months, mortal brat. We spend all of our working time making sure people die when they're supposed to and passing the dead onto the Afterlife. We have morbid hobbies and morbid thoughts. Therefore, December has a morbid fascination not with religion, but mortals' guesses of the Afterlife."
"One of their religions is right," December said. "Quite spot-on. I found that interesting."
"Which one?" Scamandros asked, interest piqued.
"We can't tell you that, now, can we?" said April. "Your friend over there is the New Architect. He doesn't know?"
Scamandros said, "Back to the original topic- are we going to go to the House?"
"That sounds like a marvelous plan," said Suzy. "Better than sitting around here waiting, as nice as this study is. Really, you have a flair for interior design."
"I didn't furnish the place," December said sullenly. "My brother did."
"And you didn't rip everything to shreds?" said September.
"Not Dante. Michael."
An awkward and painful silence filled up the study, and December broke it by shaking her head and saying, "I can't go to the House. I have to stay here in Styx's Vault."
Scamandros opened his mouth to protest, but then sniffed instead. "Huh. Something smells weird."
"Probably a sandwich," December said. "I tend to work while eating and forget about it."
"Like, eew," said April. "You just forget about food until it starts rotting?"
"Usually that takes about fifty or so years of House time," December said. "Time here is screwed up, so I normally find it before it starts smelling. Therefore, no, I don't forget until it starts rotting- just a little before."
"So, how old would this sandwich be?" Suzy inquired.
"It's not a rotting sandwich, guys. It's smoke," said Arthur, drawing away from the bookshelf and sniffing to make sure. "Yup, smoke."
Art placed his hand against the door. "Hot." He drew it away, and it was horribly burnt, but shaking it once or twice made it good as new. The perks of having superhuman healing. "I think they're going to take you up on your challenge."
"What challenge?" December frowned.
"You said, 'They'd have to burn us out,'" Suzy reminded her. "What, you felt like JINXING things? You might as well have said things couldn't get any worse!"
"So, we really do have to get out of here," September said.
"Please, December. Come with us to the House," Scamandros said.
"I agree," Art said. "We can discuss some way of stopping the Young One and Columbus there."
December shook her head. "I can't break the-" She stopped. "Right. Fine. All right then. We'll go to the House with you."
"Everyone, grab each other's belts!" Art said. "Suzy, you take mine. Art, you take Suzy's, and then Scamandros, and then…" He looked to December.
"September, take Scamandros's, and April, take September's. I'll be last," December said. "Allow me to stack the books for you."
She went to work quickly, making three or four steps. Art nodded when she backed away and grabbed April's belt, and he held up the Seventh Key. "Everyone, brace yourselves! I don't know how the Stairs works with Ascendants."
"Better than with Denizens," April said. "We used to travel it when She was still around."
"Okay…" said Art. "Good. That makes my job easier, I guess. Here we go!" He leaped at the stairs, and Scamandros blinked as he vanished suddenly, followed by Arthur and Suzy. Then he too was gone, up the winding stairs and climbing, the Months behind.
"Hey…" April said, and looked over her shoulder. "Oh, crap. She's got to be kidding me."
"What?" asked Art. At the head of the line, he couldn't spare a look back, and seemed to be having trouble dragging them all up.
"It's December. She's let go."
It was getting very, very hot in the study as December slashed at the door. "Drat it!" she said. "They barricaded it." Flames were already licking in, and she hesitated for a scant moment before sending forth a spell that blasted the door off its hinges.
She leaped over the pile of furniture and nimbly landed on the other side, clicking her tongue. "There goes my book collection," she sighed. "Oh, well. First things first- I better get to the Vaults and get rid of any vermin in there."
December walked slowly and hid in shadows, occasionally having to dispatch an Acolyte that attacked her. She didn't bother to contemplate the morality of what she was doing, as she would have before. Her heart was pounding against her chest, and an inexplicable force was drawing her to the center of the battle, where she knew both Dante and Columbus lay.
She licked her lips at the thought. Oh, battle. Glorious battle. How long had it been since she'd allowed this side of her out?
The Copy that was once pretending to be Emily Penhaligon had to find Arthur, and had to find him quickly. Where would he be likely to go? She guessed that he was hanging around with the Soul Witch, and she would probably head straight to the Vault, so there was no better bet.
Tuesday was waiting for Wednesday at the docks when she disembarked from the cruise. "How was it?" he asked.
"It was splendid," said Wednesday. "Just beautiful. I loved it." She seemed to have lost her land legs again, and both Tuesday and Richard held out hands to steady her. It irked him that she chose Richard's, though why, he wasn't sure yet.
"We had a wonderful time," Richard said. "Wendy is just so much fine to be around."
Tuesday resisted the urge to gag at their puppy-dog eyes. "Yeah, I guess."
"You would've liked it," Wednesday said. "Remember when you and I would take the Sollemne out for joyrides?"
"If you call that tub barely floating three feet away from Port Wednesday a joyride," grumbled Tuesday.
"Where's Port Wednesday?" asked Richard.
"Europe," Wednesday and Tuesday chorused at once. Tuesday winked at her. How DID she know what he was going to say?
"You used to live in Europe?" Richard said.
"No, she used to live in the center of the universe as a giant whale," Tuesday scoffed.
Wednesday glared at him. "We. Spent. Some. Time. There."
"What are you accentuating every word for, like I'm some sort of idiot?" Tuesday asked. "I know where we lived. Jeez, lady. Give me a break."
"Where in Europe?" said Richard.
"Oh, all over," Wednesday replied before Tuesday could mess with him and say something like Kannesteinen Rock. "England, Germany, Poland… that Roman place…"
"No, the one with 'Roman' in the name…"
"Yeah, there. And the middle finger of Germany…"
"Denmark," said Tuesday, before Wednesday could embarrass herself further. One would think that if she had to name places in Europe where she'd 'lived,' she'd have picked places she knew the names of.
"Yeah, Denny Denmark," Wednesday said.
"You are so adorable," said Richard.
Tuesday actually did gag that time.
Wednesday glared at him again.
"Frog in your throat?" said Richard.
"Oh, Architect, no!" exclaimed Tuesday. "Anything but that dratted frog in my throat!"
"What…?" Richard raised an eyebrow.
"Anyway…" Wednesday said. "It's getting late. We should all be heading back."
"Yes, we should," Tuesday agreed.
They hailed a cab, and Tuesday remained silent throughout the ride while Wednesday and Richard chatted about the stupidest topics he'd ever have the misfortune to hear, such as who would win the next election, whether the newest bill was good or bad for the country, whether the government had overstepped their bounds with the quarantine of the Sleepy Plague by bombing the town, etc. How Wednesday could actually talk about the bomb and feign ignorance was beyond Tuesday; Sunday had made sure to point out how 'scared of a little brat you must have been to bomb an entire town. Seriously? For a twelve year old boy?'
Once they walked up the flights of stairs to their apartment, Wednesday gave Richard her goodbyes and KISSED HIM.
And it was no quick peck on the cheek, either. It was a full-out smooch on the lips.
Tuesday's jaw dropped, and he had to close it before she turned around, all smiles, to say, "Let's hope everything was okay while I was gone!"
Now, something about stalling Wednesday for a clean-up went through his head, but he was so shocked that he had no idea how to respond. She'd just kissed a mortal. She'd just kissed a mortal in front of him.
Tuesday was used to greed.
Jealousy was something new to him entirely, and as such, he did not recognize it when it started roaring in his heart.
Everything was most definitely not fine while Wednesday was gone.
Friday had tried cooking lasagna, but Sunday soon learned it was not wise to let her anywhere near anything that was flammable. The resulting mess was an exploded stove in the kitchen and several life-threatening wounds that should have killed Friday on the spot were she not a Denizen. As such, she merely remained huddled in bed while she waited for them to heal- even then at a much quicker rate than usual for both Denizen and mortal, a side effect of having the Key for so long- whining about how much she missed Thursday. Monday was absolutely adamant about helping Sunday clean up the mess, so Sunday had to actually get down and scrub the floors like some sort of lowly servant. He'd begged Tuesday to stall Wednesday, for he knew how she'd react, and he needed time to clean up everything and somehow cover up the gaping hole in the kitchen wall where a stove had once been.
"My Architect!" Wednesday exclaimed, dropping her bags to the floor. Behind her, Tuesday groaned. "Did you manage to blow the stove up?"
"Tuesday!" screeched Sunday, scrambling to his feet and throwing the rag at him. "I told you to stall her!"
"I forgot," Tuesday mumbled.
"The moral of this story," Wednesday said, "is that as much as we hate one another, we sort of suck without each other."
"Way to make this way sappier than it needs to be," Sunday said. "Oh, no. Please don't tell me you're going to launch into a lecture. Just yell at me, please, but do not talk down to me like I'm some sort of toddler! I'm no one's brat that they need to baby!"
"Tuesday has skill in fixing objects," continued Wednesday, smirking. "Friday brings our spirits up. Monday reminds us of what NOT to do, and I suppose Friday does too. Thursday can snap us out of apathy or placidity, and you remind us all about the evils of egoism and mephobia."
"Yes, Sunday. You clearly have it."
"And that is?"
"Fear that you're so awesome the universe will explode," said Tuesday. "She's basically calling you an arrogant smartass and jerk."
"But a jerk I love," said Wednesday.
That sounded weird." Tuesday said.
"I don't get it," Wednesday replied, which made Tuesday face palm.
Sunday groaned. "Whatever. When you were naming us… you skipped Saturday."
"Maybe Saturday was the fifth wheel?" said Tuesday.
"She was an evil, cantankerous, dragonish, absolutely persnickety witch," said Sunday.
"And we loved her for it," Wednesday said.
"Speak for yourself," Sunday snorted, but he frowned. "So, if you were going to bring up Saturday, what would you say?"
"I'd say…" Wednesday paused. "Wait. Why do you want to know?"
"Just answer the question, darn it!"
"Okay, okay!" she laughed. "Clearly, she was the only one YOU could ever have a crush on."
"LIES!" shouted Sunday, leaping after her as Wednesday shrieked with laughter and ran around the apartment. He skidded to a stop as she slammed the door to her room and locked it. "Open up right now, Wednesday!" he demanded.
"Or what? What'll you do?"
He had the feeling she was sticking her tongue out at him, and the fact that he couldn't see her to make sure irritated him all the more. "You should've stayed a whale," said Sunday.
The door was thrust open, but merely long enough for Wednesday to slap him and then shut it again. Sunday reeled back- not at the force of the slap, but that she had the audacity to deliver one and had actually caught him by surprise.
"Female Denizens are a piece of work," Tuesday sighed.
"Tell me about it," Sunday muttered. "If I apologize, do you think she'll make cake?"
"The cake is a lie," said Tuesday.
"She never eats anything she cooks. Did any of you notice?"
"Er, not really," Sunday admitted.
"So there you go. She pretend she has no problems with food anymore by making it, but she never eats any. The cake is a lie."
"Well, it's a tasty lie, and I want a bite of it," Sunday said.
"You are so callous, I am beyond words."
"Oh, shut up. You're just mad you've been friend-zoned."
"What?" Tuesday shook his head. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!"
"More ridiculous than being the only Denizen without eyebrows?" said Sunday, making sure to raise an eyebrow as he spoke.
"I want to punch that smug look off your face," said Tuesday. "And I will."
He threw an uppercut at Sunday, who easily dodged and retaliated with a swift blow to the shin. "I know you and Thursday were always arguing over who was better at hand to hand," he said as Tuesday fell over screaming in pain, "but I just wanted to remind you who the true master is. Master of this house, and master of you."
"Shut up," growled Tuesday.
"I would," Sunday said, "but then I'd be listening to you, and what kind of a master listens to his underlings?"
"Saturday made you shut up with your superiority crap by bringing up her own superiority crap," Tuesday scowled, standing. "Architect, I can't believe I'm actually missing that know-it-all."
"So now you prefer her to me?"
"I hate either of you separately, but together, you're tolerable!" Tuesday exclaimed. "Which is better than me, because I'm intolerable whether I'm with a girl or not!"
Wednesday cracked the door open again. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry too," Tuesday said. "My life sucks."
"Know what'll make it better?" said Wednesday.
"You'd make me one?"
"And me?" said Sunday. "What about me?"
"If you're so much better at everything we do," said Wednesday, "I'm sure any cake you make would be vastly superior to any I try to fashion for you." She grinned, grabbed Tuesday's wrist, and yanked him into the kitchen.
Sunday curled his fists into balls. "Oh, yeah? Well… well… who needs your cake? I don't! I don't need your cake! I need… I need…" He frowned. How was he supposed to finish that sentence?
"I need a lie," he finished.
Because, of course, the cake was a lie.
Art was not pleased, to say the least.
"What kind of a person pulls off a stupid move like that?" he roared. "I'm going back and getting her."
"The Stair won't let you enter," said September. "I did a study on the Stair, once, with Mary. You can't enter Styx's Vault with the Stair, but you can leave it."
"Then we'll just use December's Star in Elysium again," Suzy said. "Big whup."
"No," said Art. "I will. You all stay here, where you'll be safe."
"Like that's going to work," Suzy said. "I'm coming."
"Not if I use the Seventh Key to hinder you from coming. Or any of you. Don't make me do that. You have September, April, Arthur, and Scamandros to keep you company. Why don't you all get to know each other?" Art smiled.
"You're about to enter a war zone," said Arthur. "I think I should go with you, at least."
"The Copy might be there," said Arthur. "She's going to kill it; she made that clear. If you're going, you might see her do it, and… no one should see that alone, especially since you're me."
"But I would like it if a part of me didn't have to see," Art protested.
"Shut up. I'm going."
Art paused. "Fine," he relented. "But everyone else stays here!"
They ran to summon an elevator to the Gardens, to make their way to Elysium, and Suzy turned to face her forced company.
"So," she said, "want to play Go Fish?"
"Go Fish is boring," April murmured.
"Don't be a wet blanket," Suzy said, taking out a packet of cards.
"But April showers bring May flowers," said April. "I'm always in a sour mood."
"Clearly." Suzy handed out the cards and sighed. "I'm going first. Scamandros, got any twos?"
"Go fish," said the Denizen.
"Aw, fiddlesticks," said Suzy, a tinge of cockney creeping upon her once more.
March hugged her knees to her chest as she hid in the cabinet next to several old buckets and rags that probably hadn't been used in several million years. She held her breath as she heard footsteps race past, hoping against hope that they wouldn't think to look here. No one used this closet anymore, and she'd only thought of it because she'd once hidden here while playing hide-and-seek at least a thousand years ago.
The sound of running feet dwindled and faded, and March let out a sigh, grateful. How long would she have to hide? Already she was beginning to cramp from holding the position, and it wasn't very comfortable. The cabinet was small, and she had to be hunched over to keep her head from being mashed against the top of it.
The footsteps returned. March bit her lip and trembled, ever so slightly. She wasn't sure who she'd rather be found by, Columbus or the Young One. She thought that Columbus might at least spare her.
She didn't even consider that the footsteps might be December's.
The cabinet creaked open, and March blinked as the darkness was expelled by harsh light.
August held out a hand. "March? Come on, it's not safe here."
"August?" March accepted the hand and let August help her out, stretching her cramped muscles. "What's going on? Where're the others?"
"I don't know," August answered. "I think… I think December's dead."
March blinked. "What? No. No way."
"She was in her study, hiding."
"So she just left me?"
"Apparently. She locked the others out, too, and Columbus found her. He set it on fire. She didn't come out."
"Fire can't kill us…" March said. "But… I suppose it'd hurt a lot to be continually burned alive."
"She killed herself," August said. "I would too, if I was being burned alive."
They were walking now, and August didn't seem the least perturbed about being found by renegade Acolytes or the Young One's army of artificial beings. "Is it safe to be out like this?" said March.
"Definitely," August nodded. "We've captured this part."
"Who's 'we?'" A new thought came to her. "Wait… how would YOU know if December killed herself or not if she didn't come out and it was Columbus who set the fire?"
August sighed. "Wow. I thought I was smarter than that. No, I guess I thought you were stupider than that."
"I don't get it."
"There's the stupid I was counting on!" August laughed. "I switched sides."
"Goodbye, March. My, I love how we die like mortals when it comes to silver blades," she said, and pulled out a slim pocket knife. "Say, would you prefer I slit your throat or stab you in the heart?"
"What?" March shook her head and threw her hands up in surrender. "I'll switch sides too! Don't kill me! Don't kill me!"
"Hmm… the more the merrier, I like to say, but then we have to share the victory cake with more people, which means less for me. You know, if you split a cake in three, each person gets more than if you split the cake in four. Basic fractions, March, and I am very fond of arithmetic." August clicked her tongue and tapped her foot. "No, no, that won't do. I was promised cake, see."
"You can have my piece! I don't want any cake!" March exclaimed, talking quickly and backing away. "Don't kill me, August!"
"Oh, I won't kill you at all," said August, stepping closer and waving the pocketknife menacingly. March continued to back away, eyes wide and starting to cry.
March nearly tripped on the threshold of a door, and suddenly realized where she was. A closet.
"Like I said," August shrugged, "I won't kill you at all." She shut the door and slipped the lock over it. "I'll leave that to someone else. The arsonists will be making rounds soon."
"You're not very smart!" said March. "This is a cliché! I'll get rescued! Someone will come and get me!"
"Who? December's either dead or a coward. You're on your own," August chuckled.
"I really wish people wouldn't gossip behind my back," said a voice above them. "It makes my poorly-timed entrances seem much too convenient."
December dropped from her hiding spot in the vents and landed in front of August, rapier raised.
"Oh, drat. I should've killed you," she spat at March.
"Told you!" replied the voice in the closet.
"And now, August, I will give you the chance to say one word. One word, and I will spare you," said December.
"And what word is that?"
December smiled and licked her lips. "Recanto. Recant and disavow your sinful path, and I'll accept you back into the fold."
"SHUT UP. You're losing. I'm not going to join the losing side," August said. "No one likes your fold, which is nicer than when you called us your flock, I suppose."
"I see," December said. "Then this leads to that. I so do hate duels to the death. I was hoping to have to kill only some Acolytes and the Young One."
"You can't kill me. It's against the rules," August said, bristling a little. She sneered. March, watching through the slits in the closet door, realized she was confident December wouldn't do anything, and, heavy-hearted, she admitted that August was right. It was against the rules. December wouldn't kill a fellow Month.
So she was just as surprised as August when December slashed at her, and August crumpled to the floor.
December smashed the lock to the closet door and opened it with an angry motion. "Come on. We have to get to the vaults."
"You- did you kill August?" March asked, looking at the growing pool of purple blood near August's motionless form. This was the December she had hoped to never see again- the one that didn't mind taking a life.
"No," December said, and seemed to deflate. "I knocked her out after giving her that injury. She won't be able to come after us, though. That's for sure." She sighed. "I want you to use a transportation spell and get yourself to December's Star. I want you to hide there until I come get you, understand? We can't transport ourselves outside of the vault with the spell, and it's too risky for you to risk the Improbable Stair, so just… wait in the Star. Understood?"
"Yes," March nodded. "And where are you going?"
"After the Young One." She prodded August with her foot. "I suppose I should probably go after Columbus while I'm at it."
"You'll need help," said March. "There's an entire army out there."
December smirked. It was not her usual, worn and tired smile. "Oh, no, March. Before, I was listening to the rules. But now… as soon as I get to the vault, where the souls are kept… my possibilities are endless!"
The Young One waited.
He knew she'd come here. Where else would she go?
The Copy waited. She was a bit miffed that Arthur and Art weren't with December, but she thought- somewhere- that they might return for her. She wasn't sure how she knew that, because she didn't know them. But Emily might have. Although Emily's memories were purged from her, sometimes little phantoms resurged, and now was one of those times.
After an ambush by several of the Young One's soldiers (which Art easily dispatched, but not before Arthur received a gash down the side of his arm), Art gave the mortal boy the First Key to 'borrow' and to use merely as a weapon in its sword form. Arthur agreed. "I don't want to get hurt," he said, wincing at the stinging pain in his arm.
"You're bleeding a lot," Art noted. "Let me heal that for you, before you bleed to death." He was also worried about a blood trail, but it made him sound less sympathetic than he would like.
Arthur, though, knew himself quite well. "They won't follow it. There's blood everywhere."
"Purple blood, idiot!"
"Are you calling yourself an idiot?"
"I suppose I am, idiot!"
"Well, fine!" Arthur snapped. "I just… I don't want to be contaminated again. I want to stay a mortal boy."
"I'm healing you all of once," Art said. "And you used the Stair and consulted the Atlas. Those should barely count."
Arthur agreed, and the Seventh Key put his arm to rights soon. "We've gotten better at healing," Arthur said. "Remember the broken leg?"
Art winced and almost limped, as if experiencing the pain again. "Yeah. That sucked."
They continued down the hall, and finally, Arthur mustered the nerve to ask, "Do we have any idea where we're going?"
"Then let's ask the Atlas."
Art whipped the book out. "She's probably in the vault, right? Yo, Atlas. How can I find the Vault?"
The book flew open with a bit too much force, and the scribbled handwriting actually looked irritated.
All hallways in Styx's Vault lead to the inner vault, where all souls are kept. Just continue forward.
"Well, that's just poor architecture," said Arthur.
"Yeah, the Old Architect built this place," said Art. "I have a little more class than that."
Which made Arthur snicker.
"So we just go in a straight line…" Art said, tucking the Atlas into a pocket. "By the way, I didn't get the chance to say so earlier… Nice ponytail."
Columbus headed towards the heart of Styx's Vault, certain that was where all the fun would be had. He stopped as a loud screech rent the air, a howl of agony and an inhuman cry of misery. "What the heck," he said, "was that?"
Art froze. "That sounded worse than a million dying banshees."
Arthur mouthed, "Is it over?" with his hands over his ears.
Art nodded, and Arthur removed his hands, frowning. "That was painful. What was that?"
"I don't know, but I think it came from the vault."
"So, we continue forward." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Art confirmed. "Have your sword ready. Just in case."
"You know, the Keys would be a lot more useful if they could turn into guns," Arthur sighed. "I mean, no one brings swords to a gun fight."
"Actually, the Seventh Key can take any form I want," said Art, and slipped it off the chain around his neck. He held it in his palm for a moment, and then it shimmered and stretched into what looked like a six-shooter.
"A six-shooter?" said Arthur. "You're bound to lose with that."
"It only looks like a six-shooter," Art snapped. "It doesn't actually run out of bullets because it's a KEY TO THE KINGDOM."
"Riiiight," said Arthur. "Whatever you say."
December made it to the vault with several scratches along an arm, a cut on her forehead, and absolutely covered in blood that wasn't hers. She stopped in the middle and called, "Dante! Are you going to face me or hide like the spineless wimp you are?"
"Strong words, sister," the Young One said, materializing in front of her. "You don't look a day older than I last saw you."
"Yet you seem to prefer an older body," December replied coolly. "I liked you better as a teenager, not a young adult."
"What do I care how you preferred it?" the Young One said. "I am the elder. I should be telling you how I think you should look. As such, I think your skirt is a little short. Too short for the rules, don't you think?"
"Shut up about the rules. I'm sick of explaining I'm done with them."
"Oh, of course you are now, but you couldn't when you had to choose between your brother and the Architect. The Architect or your life and it's easy, but your brother and the Architect? God forbid you pick your brother!"
"Actually, yes. God forbade it," December said in an even voice.
"In any case, Soul Witch, I'm not here to give you a fair fight."
"Pity. I was going to give you one," December sighed.
"Yes, well, I don't delude myself into thinking about honor," the Young One snapped, and clapped his hands.
The souls around them rose into a loud screech and wail, and December's eyes widened. "Dante! Stop this!" She continued shouting as the cries rose in intensity before stopping altogether, and the souls stretched and flexed muscles they didn't have. They rose and walked towards the Young One, as he hummed from Madama Butterfly.
The souls wailed once more, pitifully like a dying cat, and December reached out for them. "No! Back away from them! Don't- don't go to-"
Dante laughed. "I do think you called me by my name, dear sister," he said, and laughed as the souls whirled into a swirl of blue energy that he cradled in his palm. "Diana, Diana, Diana. Surely you haven't forgotten my promise."
His icy eyes narrowed. "You promised to destroy my soul. I vowed to rip yours to shreds… after I make you my pawn. You're going to be mine, today, Diana. You're going to help me depose the New Architect, and you're going to explain how you managed to resurrect the Morrow Days so perfectly, seeing as Noelle interfered with me actually studying them myself. And then…"
He took a deep breath before continuing. "And then you're going to tell me what the hell you did to Michael and Mary!"
"I didn't do anything to Mary," December said, "and I'm not going to help you do anything."
"Oh, Soul Witch. You dance with spirits, and I call souls to do my bidding," the Young One shook his head. "What can you do against the will of hundreds- no, thousands- of souls bent to my intent?"
"I will never betray the New Architect," she said.
"Oh, don't get me wrong. I have no loyalty to him. Ever heard of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'?"
"I would stop with the smugness if I were you," said Dante.
"ESPECIALLY SINCE WE'RE HELPING YOU!" roared Arthur and Art, entering dramatically. The only thing that could have made it more dramatic would have been if they had stopped to pose.
(Which they actually discussed earlier, but decided against)
December groaned. "Not that I have anything against your showing up to heroically rescue me from my brother's twisted plans, but what is up with these perfect timings? First me to March, now you…? Almost like fate."
"Not fate," said Art. "An Architect!"
"Indeed," agreed the Young One. "Which is why I'm sure fate would like to mess with you a bit, since you're stealing its spotlight. Sweetie, come and say hello to the newcomers."
A door opposite opened, and the Not-Emily entered. "Hello, boys," she said, and rushed to hug Arthur. "I've missed you."
December's jaw dropped, along with Art's.
And in this moment, Dante took the opportunity to nail her in the chest, full-force, with the assembled energy of the souls in his palm.
Several things happened in that instance.
See, there are several things the universe does not take lightly to, and one of those is the extinguishing of a soul. Being hit with the gathered force of several thousand souls takes a very hard toll on one's essence, either destroying it or bending it completely. December's being was on the verge of fragmenting on itself, and she arched her back, screaming.
Dante suddenly fell and clutched his own chest. "WHAT DID YOU DO?" he demanded, but December paid him no heed, curled into a fetal position and still screaming. "WHAT DID YOU DO, DIANA?! WHY IS THIS HURTING ME?!"
As Dante and December cried, the Copy embraced Arthur and smoothed back his hair, already thinking of how to betray him.
While the Not-Emily thought of how to betray the son of the woman whose stolen face she bore, the souls in Styx's Vault were awakening, responding to the call Dante had sent out earlier.
One of those souls belonged to a blue-eyed, blue-haired Denizen who had just been given a new body, a third chance to live. It too wanted to sing with the others, but it found it was bound to a body, tethered to flesh. Thus, Saturday bolted upright and found herself screaming her throat raw, clothed in a white nightgown, disoriented, and not having the slightest idea where she possibly could have been.
During this time, a black-haired near-goddess made up her mind, and decided that being in love meant making sacrifices, not hiding alone in a tandem universe. The Atlas shook, and Mary struggled to free herself of the chains she'd placed on herself.
Diana Solsti, more commonly known as December, howled until she had no breath left, and then she dropped her rapier, a weapon that had also been the cap on her own power. Trembling, she managed to drag herself to her feet, and held out her hands, then touched them to her chest. When they came away, she held blue light of souls in each hand. "You cannot desecrate the souls of the deceased, brother," she said, "any better than I can."
"What're you going to do, swallow it?" Art asked.
"Close," Diana replied, and clapped the lights together.
A flash of light, and then…
The souls faded from existence, the others in the Vault shouting at the loss, a small earthquake setting over them.
"You destroyed over a thousand souls!" Dante shouted, and leaped at her with his sword.
Diana ducked, but she needn't have- Arthur tripped Dante with his foot, despite the Not-Emily trying to hold him back.
Diana clicked her tongue. "Tie him up, please," she said, and Art and Arthur complied.
"I'm not defeated yet," the Young One said. "Our battle hasn't even begun."
"I'm aware of that," December said. "If it had, one of us would be dead. Just be patient, would you? I need to get rid of Columbus first, and then we can squabble all we like."
Dante glared, then noticed the Copy was making steady eye contact.
Slowly, the Not-Emily winked.
Columbus, simply put, bailed.
He heard the shrieks, knew exactly what was going on, ordered his Acolytes to retreat, and got the heck out of there. Poor August was left behind; he didn't have the time to fetch her.
Columbus knew that more than half of his army had been killed, and that left him in bad shape. That meant he needed resurrections, and the only current cases of a good resurrection…
It was easy to sneak into the apartment. He'd been planning to kidnap one of them, easy as a slice of cake, when he saw an actual cake. It was just sitting there, the chocolate icing seeming to glow in the moonlight, everything seeming oh-so-delicious. "Chocolate… cake," he said, mouth watering. It looked beyond delicious. It looked like it'd be the best thing ever.
Even Wednesday didn't know she usually baked magic into her cake.
Columbus reached to put some icing on his finger when a frying pan collided with the back of his head. The last thing he saw before the darkness came rushing in was a green-haired man shouting, "I WAS STEALING THAT CAKE FROM TUESDAY, DRAT IT! PAWS OFF!"
A/N: Oh, jeez. I must apologize for the profuse amount of cliches in this chapter. I know there's no good excuse, but I was having serious writers' block and had to write SOMETHING. Also, I feel like the not-final or pre-final confrontation between Diana and Dante did not go very well; I might rewrite it later. If I do, I'll be sure to post an update in an author's note in a later chapter.
Please rate and review! I'd love to know what you think, and I really appreciate constructive criticism.
As for my other fics... if 'completed' is not in the status, I'm still writing them! Therefore, 'Silence, Sound,' 'Deader than Alive,' and 'Morrow Days vs the World' will have updates, but when I'm not sure. I also have several planned fics starring Arthur instead of the Days, but I'm going to wait to finish a current fic before I add a new one (I have a lot I'm writing right now, ha ha). I'm getting busier and busier every day, and it's driving me crazy.
Thank you for sticking with the story so much! Until next time,