"What do you think you're doing?" Halo demanded. "The Freeze is taboo. If you do this the universe itself will retaliate!"
The Executioner studied the Voice of They Above All, warily. "What is he talking about?"
"My brothers and I are here to oversee the freezing of the Earth," Celeste said, and she sounded honestly regretful. "An eternity in ice is this planet's future. It's the only way to keep Entropy imprisoned."
I felt blindsided. This was a betrayal I never predicted. "What? You would just consign us into oblivion without giving us a chance to fight back!"
"You can't do this," Omega pleaded.
Halo glared. "He's right. You all literally can't do this. Heaven agreed to the Pact, along with the Greater Old Ones, Archon Consciousness, and the Primordials. The freezing violates the Pact, and it's stitched into creation, Celeste. Doing this will wipe you from existence."
Celeste frowned. "Perhaps you are too used to this life. You have become weak in your mortal form." She gestured to the city. "If Entropy is freed it won't be just this planet that falls, he will wipe out all of creation. The mortal planes, Heaven and Hell, the Dreamlands, all of it."
I shook my head. "It's true, we can't compare billions here to all sentient life in creation." I pointed at her. "But freezing Earth will only postpone the confrontation. The Dread Barriers are broken. Entropy will escape. Give us a chance!"
"We fought Entropy with fear and ignorance, never before had we faced an enemy with powers to rival our own," Halo argued. "It's already proven we can't lock him up forever. At least now we will fight with experienced warriors and power we're young enough to use recklessly to win."
From behind me, Solaris leaned into my shoulder and whispered, "Dude! He just really shaded us."
"Enough," Celeste said, cutting her hand through the air. "Time is too few for last words. I'm sorry."
I understood that this was an act of desperation and hopelessness, but it wasn't the way. As long as we still drew breath, there was a chance. It may be small, but we're still in his fight, and we were going to give it our all or die trying. It was a fair assumption that Celeste and her little ragtag harp crew here were the only ones behind Earth's imprisonment; otherwise the entire angelic might of the Silver City would be gathered here. They must be a renegade group then if what Halo said about this being outlawed was accurate. I liked Celeste but if this was how she wanted to play it then so be it. I was going to show her what a Chosen really was.
I looked at my friends with a grim frown. "Chosen, fire on my mark."
We lifted our hands toward the angels in the sky and that twisting blob of death, now the size of a bus, growing under their power.
"Mark!" I shouted.
Three things happened at once.
In half a second over two dozen pulses with a half-megaton of celestial energy speared the twilight, dispensing beams of white-hot death.
The rolling mass of silver dropped from the sky like an asteroid.
There was a sickening crack as the limbs of the angels twisted at unnatural angels, their faces frozen in silent screams of horror, like abnormal wax statues.
Their entire forms bleached of color. It was like they were photo negative of themselves, then they were simply gone. Dust to dust. It happened between one blink, and the next, and our attacks continued on their paths; only without a target, disappearing into the twilight. There wasn't time to deal with whatever the hell that was. The universe had apparently handled that problem. Now we were left to deal with what had been a silvery twisting mass, that upon contact with the Thames had flash frozen the entire river. The ice looked four inches thick, and it was spreading. Fast.
Solaris stepped forward, his hands alive with fire. "I got this," he said, sending bolts of plasma arcing into the ice covering both banks of the river.
The incinerating attacks met the ice and fizzled out into nothing. "That's not possible," Omega whispered, clutching a heavy hand on my shoulder.
Then I saw it, Omega projected an image into our minds. The had already made its way into some of the buildings, spread quickly by the river. I could see a policeman in a parking lot exit his vehicle, unaware the ice had begun to cover the ground. The instant his boot hit... he froze. Ice jumped onto him like iron onto a magnet.
More and more images started to come, and Omega quickly broke the telepathic connection.
"Okay," Solaris said faintly. Fear was at the edges of his eyes. "Let's get a game plan going."
The ice was crawling at a meter a second now, forcing us to retreat further downrange. Halo stared at the growing frost spreading along the ground. "I'm the game plan," he said, holding his staff aloft. "I'm the Champion of Balance. I rule over karma and judgment. I can leverage that power to annihilate the ice, but..." He looked back at us with a grimace. "I won't have much strength to fight Entropy with."
I swore under my breath and turned to the Executioner, who was scanning the anomaly. We were almost a mile out from the ice, and that distance was narrowing.
"Ryan, can we destroy the ice ourselves?"
"I don't think it's possible." The Executioner looked spooked by the readings he was picking up on his phone. "It's organic and has an adaptive ability that I've never seen before. Our power is useless against it." His eyes widened as he found the data to back up our last Hail Mary. "Halo commands divine energy, which is what it's made from. But he needs to one-shot this. If even one crystal survives it will adapt to his power and make it useless to counter, then it will spread again."
"Got it." Halo squared his shoulders, then tilted his chin up. He looked like Prince Gaius. I put my trust in him and also prayed to whoever was listening to help.
I shared a long look with my brother. “You got this.”
Halo held his staff aloft and said in a clear voice that made the hair on my arms stand up, "Divine Reckoning!"
Light was not supposed to be so loud, but everyone on Earth heard it. The bright, white wave washed out from Halo like a flood, splashing into everyone it touched as traveled the globe faster than light. The Earth itself trembled and cracked at the seams as Halo's mighty singular act of holy purification sought to undo fate.
The light touched the ice that had begun overtaking whole city blocks, freezing even the living in an eternal prison. Where the light shined, the ice was shattered into nothingness—vaporizing in a cleansing pulse that flowed along the horizon.
The harshest of winters must end eventually. Even the darkest of nights had to give away to day.
It was a new dawn.
Halo staggered when the light vanished as quickly as it washed over us. I was immediately at his side, holding him up with an arm over his shoulders.
"Hey there, easy does it," I murmured.
He looked winded. His eyes were half-lidded, but he nodded and said weakly, "I tipped the scales of fate to destroy the ice."
"Save your strength," I consoled him, then chanced a worried look Omega.
Solaris shook his head. "We have to change plans if you're not the big gun. There's no way you can get the drop on Entropy like this."
I felt a prickling in my shoulders. I looked around the deserted streets we stood in and eyed the dark corners of the buildings. It felt eerie being out in the open like this. We needed to bunker down and come up with a new play because it was suddenly looking like we were running in circles.
"It's one thing after another. The clones destroying the fae realm, Centennial, then the angels greater good murder plan." I said, listing off every skirmish with growing dread. Something was off.
"All which we won," Solaris pointed out.
"Halo's tapped out, isn't he?" Omega said tiredly. He looked at me and I could he was following the thread of logic. "We didn't really win. Entropy is still coming. And the angels lost their lives for an unsuccessful mission."
"Or a trap," The Executioner said.
Nobody moved. The bigger picture was coming together. We were a small piece on a board.
A myriad of emotions warred across Halo's face. "I'm weakened, and now we're out of time." It took a moment to register the mounting fear in his eyes. He was drowning in it. "We hope to save the world, but we'll have to save ourselves first."
I couldn't even lay into him for that kind of defeatist talk, because that was when the calamity began.
A tall being in tattered black clothing appeared at the bank of the Thames. His skin was blood red and looked like every picture of fire and brimstone, and was the devil made flesh, with a pair great, thick dark horns protruding from his brow and ending in sharp points. Yellow eyes with dark reptile-like pupils beheld us, and I was shaking. The terror was so absolute, so all-encompassing, that it was almost like calm, not suspicion, but the absolute certainty that we were all about to die.
"I have been where you are. To lose after coming so far, yet still striving to fight. It can be humbling. After spinning in circles for so long, hoping to break the wheel, you have come at last to witness your greatest failure. The death of the universe... Me."
His voice was a deep baritone, measured, and there was a weight to it as if he was a titan talking to down to us from his cloud-strewn citadel. I let out a slow breath and looked upon our doom. The end was here.
The Executioner gave me an apologetic glance, then he moved. The sound was explosive. His footsteps shook the ground because that was what the high-speed technique was called Thunderstep. I couldn't even trace his movements until he was inside Entropy's guard, battering that massive, muscular torso bared by his open robe. Entropy stepped backward, avoiding the right cross to his chin, and grabbed the leg coming in for a screaming roundhouse that would've taken the head off a lesser being. The seven-foot tall being poured into the opening and hammered the Executioner's gut with two hard punches. Ryan gave a choking cry, coughing up blood, and struggled weakly in the monster's iron grip.
"Ryan!" Solaris screamed.
The sky blazed with our gathered might and Entropy, gripping Ryan by his throat, stared at the energy roiling at our fingertips, and said, "Don't."
"Let him go!" I ordered. Solaris was next to me, shaking with worry and so much fury.
"You imagine your king of demons in my form. A primal fear originating from your universe's brush with destruction eons ago," Entropy said. "The trauma of it is rooted in humanity's racial memory. Now tell me, am I all you feared?"
"Drop him," Solaris said coldly.
"Ah, the lover," Entropy said. "You want to fight me so desperately. I will indulge you. Do your worst."
Entropy dropped his shoulder and slammed the Executioner into the ground with a sickening, boneless smack. The Champion of Soul still had some fight in him because he surged upward, but Entropy's fist slammed into his face with a chilling crack. I had witnessed the Executioner rip boulders apart with his bare hands. Entropy's punch might as well be as dense as dwarf star matter with the way Ryan's head snapped back.
He fell motionless to the ground.
Solaris' body burst into twinkling motes of light, then appeared again tumbling through the air behind Entropy's back. Swirling streams of white-yellow plasma gathered around him as he fell from altitude with purpose.
I muttered a word and the Executioner slid across the ground to our position. Omega immediately laid hands upon him to heal his injuries.
A solid beam carved a trough through the earth as Entropy sidestepped the opening attack, only to be caught dead on with a bolt of white destruction. It detonated against his massive chest, and he stepped backward as Solaris followed the volley with a combination punch battering into his face.
I clenched my fists and dirt constructs, mirroring my hands, burst from the ground to grab Entropy's ankles. He shook off the golems like toys, then evaded Solaris' next strike that detonated into a small crater at his heels. Entropy finally brought up his hand and slapped Solaris into the ground with a smooth, unhurried backhand motion. The gesture was almost casual.
I lashed out with a rain of pure annihilation. Entropy took the barrage of killing beams head-on. They fell against him like raindrops and turned the ground into smoldering ashes. Solaris hopped up, attempting to thrust a combination kick into the thing, only to watch Entropy sidestep the blow strike, then dart in passed his guard. The tips of Entropy's fingers stabbed into Solaris' stomach in one smooth motion, until his entire fist was buried inside.
"No!" I shouted.
Halo grabbed my hand tightly and held me in place. "Wait. Look."
Solaris stood, whole and unmarred, covered in white-hot liquid fire like a humanoid sun. He jumped away when Entropy stepped toward him, retreating away to a safe distance. The fire washed away and the line in his shoulders visibly relaxed when he saw Omega kneeling over his boyfriend.
The Executioner's breathing was shallow, but even, and blood coated his entire lower face. The femur bone in his left leg protruded from the skin, pearly white amongst exposed tendons. It was really fucking bad, but it was better than being dead. Solaris returned his stare to Entropy and his expression was wary now, but no less resolute.
"You're beginning to see how hopeless this is. Even in my prison, I steered destiny toward this moment." Entropy looked up into the overcast sky, closing his eyes, somewhat content. He looked back at us with dark, penetrating eyes.
Halo tapped my wrist and I saw his fingers tighten around his staff. I just needed to buy us some time. We weren't wholly screwed yet. Stalling until Halo regained his strength was a tall order, but we were out of options.
"What is this all for?" I shook my head. "I don't understand why the universe deserves to die."
Entropy stared at me with an unwavering gaze, then said, "This universe has a group of beings called They Above All. In another universe exists a similar group and eons ago a calculation was made that a neighboring universe existing in the multiverse would collide with theirs, destroying both."
"That kind of prediction can't be precise," Halo argued. "To pinpoint an external annihilation event so far in a universe's existence isn't possible. The multiverse is vast. You don't even know if our universe is the one theorized in the collision, do you?"
"And that is why all other universes within this multiverse must be wiped out."
There was a stubborn frown on Halo's face now. "What about the Grid? The barrier that separates the universes."
"It will somehow be overcome." Entropy sounded so sure of his conviction. "We don't know how, but it was predicted."
I couldn't keep the incredibility out of my voice. "I'm sorry, you're attempting to kill us all just on the off chance that one day our universe just might, maybe, collide with yours?"
"All potential threats must be eliminated," Entropy said in that solemn tone that sounded like pure dread.
"Tell me," I demanded, anger leaking into my voice. "How many universes have you killed?"
Entropy didn't answer.
I shook my head. "You owe us this."
"Owe?" Entropy asked. "I owe you knowing but death. However, the answer is seventeen. Yours will be the eighteenth." He sighed, and there was a long moment before he finally said, "I take no joy in this. I even admire your predecessors for trapping me. They only prolonged the inevitable."
Talking was good. Talking was better than killing.
I soldiered on. "You have to see this is insane. You're going to be fighting this battle forever in countless universes."
"Your First Gods created you to protect your universe. Mine empowered me to destroy others," Entropy said simply.
Halo laughed suddenly. It lacked mirth. "We never asked, and you never said. You just appeared and started wiping out entire star systems."
Entropy appraised him. "I hold no grudge for the part you played." There was a faint note of respect in his voice. "I remember you. You were a fearsome sight. You faced me down as I cut through your squadron at the singing waterfalls of Theta Norvos."
"And I remember wondering if you bleed." A look of righteous fury burned in Halo's eyes.
"You're welcome to summon your flaming sword once more," Entropy invited him. The skin pulled tight on his face when he smiled, displaying the sharp edges of his bones. "You can try and find out."
We weren't ready yet. Omega was still tending to the Executioner and he looked better now, but nowhere near combat ready. Well, everyone knows I had a smart mouth on me.
"You know he doesn't have access to his angelic power." I held him Entropy under a steady gaze. "You've been watching and masterminding behind the scenes this entire time, after all."
Entropy tipped his head. "The Dread Barriers were troublesome, but no prison is foolproof. My reach could be felt throughout history."
"There has to be a better way. We can find a way to save your universe."
"Save your breath, brother," Halo said quietly. "He has his marching orders. He's had eons to come up with a better solution, and like it or not, it's our universe's death that he's come up with."
"You see now," Entropy said evenly. "I know you think I'm ruthless, but I am saving lives."
I narrowed my eyes. "At the cost of trillions!"
"It is better this way."
"You're insane," I muttered.
"Life isn't fair." Entropy flexed his hands, causing the thick veins to jump out along his deep red skin. "You who have lost a parent early, in both lives, know this better than most."
It felt like getting hit by a car. I froze. Not from fear this time. "What did you say?" I asked softly.
"Casualties of my manipulations." He looked at me without remorse. "You should be grateful. That loss shaped and made you into the leader you are."
There was a ringing in my ears. It was like a bomb had gone off. I felt off-balance like I had gotten knocked around and stood back upright. Memories of my mother from my last life flashed in my mind. Soft memories of a woman with a gentle smile and warm eyes raced behind my eyes. Queen Lilandra. Tears pricked my eyes as I thought of my dad, the one in this life with his strong hands and easy laughter. His hugs I missed most of all.
I hadn't realized I took a step forward until Halo's hand gripping my wrist stopped me.
"Chad," he said warningly, eyes pleading. "Don't."
My heart was pounding and cracking slowly like glass. The grief and loss felt fresh, hitting me all over again. I looked at him and said, my voice breaking, "He killed my dad."
That was all the warning Entropy had before I struck.
A typhoon was birthed into existence in a crescendo of incredible green light. Waves of magical power poured forth as I dispersed blazing meteors that descended from on high, burning the aether apart with their presence.
There was a deafening explosion as Entropy punched through the falling meteors like snowflakes. Lightning fell against his red skin as he stood the brunt of hurricane-force winds that blasted across his position. The ground shook as crystalline lava bathed him in a fiery spray. It was one natural disaster after another back by the terrifying power that I called forth, splintering the ground and burning the air itself.
Nothing seemed to stick on him. He merely battered aside deadly blue rays, stomped out geysers of sentient black flame, and sidestepped blades of vacuum energy from zero space.
I wasn't alone.
Supercharged plasma rained down upon him in a shower. Solaris did something with his hands that collected the plasma that fell around Entropy's feet into a boiling pit of incineration. Entropy stood in the middle of the field of devastation like I was a warm summer's day, while the world around him burned.
Entropy looked at me through the storm and smiled.
It pissed me off.
"Fuck you!" I shouted, then began the spell I crafted in Atlantis.
The air around us wavered subtly as the Chosen shielded the area. They must have a clue what I was about to do. England was the perfect place to cast this spell. I cupped my hands and raised them skyward.
"A resting crown, a sleeping king, seven towers, spinning wheels, flying on fluttering wings of jade, carve a shooting star into the sky."
The legend of King Arthur with his city of Camelot and band of faithful knights was legendary. It was told in many forms and people grew up believing in the tale, especially here where remnants of that halcyon kingdom remained. There was power in that. I harnessed that faith, calling it forth with magic, and binding it with my will.
Above us appeared a glowing, golden greatsword as tall as Big Ben that rose in the distance. It made the air vibrate in anticipation. It was majestic, it was glory, it was Excalibur.
I glared at the murderer of my parents, in this life and the last. "Go to hell." I brought my hands down as if the sword hilt was in my hands. "Arthur's Decree!"
Excalibur came down, shaking the air with its passing, and Entropy didn't move. The force of the strike was enough to reduce him to fine mist. The destroyer of universes caught the massive, otherworldly blade by the edge, creating a trench as the momentum behind the blow sent him skidding backward.
"Just die already!" Somebody wailed, fearful and high. Killian.
I didn't have anything left to pour into the attack. Entropy stopped the blade cold and with a grunt heaved it back along its trajectory. It broke the shield like a rock thrown through a window. The greatsword was launched into the sky reminiscent of a rocket where it shattered into countless golden flakes.
They fell down upon the city in a dreamlike wash of color. I closed my eyes as the flakes touched my skin and disappeared like tears in rain. It felt a lot like failure.
"What did you gain?" Entropy's deep voice echoed in the still of the air. "For what it is worth. You have my respect, Prince."
Then all I knew was intense pain. Somehow Entropy had closed the distance between us between one blink and the next. I didn't even see the blows hammering into my rib cage, but could feel the bones bend and crack sickeningly. I couldn't breathe. The pain was so sudden that I didn't even notice I was being lifted off my feet.
Entropy held me above his head with both of his arms like a trophy. I could feel his large hands grip onto my body, and I struggled weakly, sensing something terrible was about to happen. I was brought down abruptly with my back slamming into his massive knee. A board of wood would break from such action, and my back was no different. There was an unbearable pressure upon my spine. Fire exploded through my nerves before I was tossed carelessly to the ground, where I bounced once and then rolled to a stop.
There was an explosion that made my ears ring.
I blinked back tears to see a crater in front of me where Entropy once stood. It was like someone had taken a giant scoop and torn out a section of the earth. Then Omega was there and gently cradling my face with his hand. I groaned sort of deliriously, tasting blood in my mouth. My legs were numb.
"Shit shit shit," Omega muttered, touching his hands to my body. "It's going to be okay. I promise."
I looked into Omega's distressed face and tried not to panic. "I..." I started coughing on blood. "I can't feel my legs."
My vision was going gray at the edges so I had to focus hard to see Halo and Entropy facing each other across ten paces of rubble. I tried to put the sequence of events together, but my thoughts were foggy. Adam must have torn out the ground with his power, launching Entropy away to give us some breathing room. Halo then diverted his attention in a followup action.
"Heaven's Trumpet was created because of you," Halo said quietly. "I suppose I always knew one day it would come to this."
Entropy took a long at the desolate battlefield, and then Halo, dark eyes gleaming. "Then let there be a reckoning."
"I'll drag you outside of time itself before I let you hurt my brother again."
"Sentiment," Entropy shook his head. "I would pull you with me if only to watch the look on your face when I find a way back and slaughter him.
"Then, we go together. It'll be a millennia before you escape." Halo faced him without fear, lifted his staff, and whispered, "Pillars of dawn and dusk, shine forth the path of nowhere. Hear my plea and carry it throughout history."
Entropy started to smile.
"Gates of Eternity!"
From the lowest valley to the tallest mountain peak, there came a rumbling noise, like the sound of a series of tumblers unlocking. Between them appeared the shape of a pair truly massive double doors reaching eight stories high. Upon the gray doors sitting in the heavy framework were etched strange symbols of glyphs and pictographs, similar to constellations. Slowly, they began to open, emitting a dismal dark purple light.
"You have my thanks," Entropy said.
Halo frowned. "What?"
Entropy launched himself at Halo. It was like a lion leaping upon a gazelle. It happened in a flash he had both of Halo's wrists in the grip of his own large hand. Halo struggled wildly; he bent at the waist and kicked Entropy in the stomach then braced his legs against his chest to push free, grunting with the effort. Entropy barely seemed to notice. Then he squeezed the hand that gripped Halo's wrists, and they bent and broke, bones breaking the skin, and his staff fell from now limp hands. I tried to move to help him, but Omega held me down, moving his hands from my ribs to my back now.
Entropy leaned in very close and said, voice carrying, "Congratulations, you just helped me destroy this universe."
Blinding yellow beams from Solaris splattered against Entropy's back, and the monster ignored them. Halo didn't cry out from the pain. He pulled his wrists to his chest and stared up with squinting eyes. "No, that's..."
"There are only three ways to destroy the universe." He chuckled deeply. "One is to destroy all the Prime Points." He bent down and picked up Halo's staff. "But that takes years, and I'm already running behind schedule. Next, you can try and wait for Armageddon." He looked at the doorway that was halfway open now. "You more than anyone knows how that can be averted."
The gate was opened now, and beyond it, outside the ordered universe, we looked upon the ethereal lit void beyond space and time. There, swirling dark clouds brimmed with endless lightning, amongst sheer dark cliffs that fell into forever, where entropic eddies of glowing ooze writhed.
I could feel my toes now. I grabbed Adam's cape and tugged it roughly, yanking him down until we were face-to-face and growled, "Stop him. Now."
"But the easiest way you will find." Entropy beheld the gate in satisfaction and said without taking his eyes from it. "Is to rupture time."
Then with both hands, he twisted and snapped Halo's staff in two.
All Hell broke loose.
There was an ear-piercing noise the likes of which I have never heard before. It was unnatural and madness, a single note that could only really be described as disharmony. The light emitted from within the gate turned green and black. The doors vibrated in its heavy framework then was sucked into the green and black light shining within, disappearing into that gaping maw, along with the framework. Free of its structure the jagged scar in the air hung there on the otherwise blue horizon.
Omega soared toward the being, bringing the glowing blade of his sword to bear. Midflight, he gripped it in two hands and brought it down for a lethal strike upon the thing's horned skull, but Entropy spun on a heel and snatched the blade with one hand catching Omega around the throat with the other.
He held Omega with a dark look. "Pitful."
Without another word, Entropy tossed him through the tear in time.
I stopped breathing. Everything felt like it was happening too fast. It didn't seem real. My mind had become a broken copy of itself. Nothing made sense; the knowledge kept falling apart when I tried making sense of it. Something unspeakable had happened, but it hurt to try and make sense of it. Somehow the world as I knew it was no longer there. I wanted to give into the hungering darkness at the edges of my vision and never wake up.
The board was clear, and all that was left was its king.