The fake stood, ready to deal the final blow.
“Take heart,” he said. “This world is about to become a paradise that no man will ever ruin.”
“Hey, dude, seriously, who talks like that?”
Chebon and Peepers burst through the double doors, each firing a bolt that hit Zeke square in the chest. He staggered a bit, but righted himself and whirled on the newcomers. He swung one arm in their general direction, and a wisp of something like smoke left his hand. Chebon dodged left and Peepers dodged right, and both clotheslined Zeke in passing.
Zeke fell backward, but easily recovered and leapt at the two. A smoky trail followed him as he lashed out at them repeatedly. The fight went nowhere for a minute; they couldn’t keep him down, but with two opponents Zeke was struggling to keep up, let alone land a strike.
Finally, an attack grazed Chebon’s face – and Chebon jerked back, then collapsed, writhing.
“What was that?” Peepers asked.
“I’ve been exuding necrotic energy since you two entered,” Zeke explained. “It’s very draining, but as you can see, it’s also very painful, and prolonged exposure would likely be quite damaging. I suggest you treat him while I see to the fall of humanity.”
“Nothing’s falling today.”
Zeke glanced back over his shoulder. “Ah, Maytee, still up, I see. Of course. I didn’t expect you to go down that easily.”
Maytee stood poised now, energy blade at the ready. “Let’s try this again,” she said.
The two began, and this time Maytee had the range advantage that had belonged to Zeke previously. Zeke’s reflexes couldn’t keep up with her, and now his back was to the wall. Deciding spells were the appropriate response, he stepped back, and thrust both hands forward, sending a larger wisp of necrotic energy rolling quickly toward Maytee.
Just the opening she needed.
Zeke was certain this attack would catch her. So of course he was completely taken aback when he saw three energy bolts fly straight through his own attack. The combined force of the three simultaneous strikes blasted him back into the wall, and he slumped, apparently unconscious.
Zeke could not. His body wouldn’t respond.
“Get up now and fight back.”
Jyan’us had no idea just how much he wanted to do precisely that. With all his effort, he managed to bring himself halfway up.
“I guess we’re concluding this game here and now, then,” said the alien being, preparing to strike him down with a massive arm. “Better luck next – hey!”
Before it could move, Zeke was off and running. He didn’t get far, though, before he discovered the futility of the action. Everywhere he turned, Jyan’us was there first.
Jyan’us delivered a mighty blow that sent Zeke skidding across the floor of the maze. He started to pick himself up, but Jyan’us did it for him, shoving him into the hedge. “Give it up,” she said. “You’ll have another try – but if you’re not going to fight back there’s no sense clinging so tightly to this one!”
Zeke looked around. Huh. The end was right there. And no matter how many times he got this close he would never be able to get past it.
“Well, that’s not entirely true, is it?” he said, in a rough voice.
Peepers, who had just succeeded in stopping Chebon’s reaction to the necrotic energy, now approached the unconscious Zeke. He cast a few spells on them both before attempting to rouse him.
“Ugh… what happened?” Zeke asked.
“Is that really you?”
“Um… yes? Wait, hang on – I wasn’t here a second ago, I was in the hedge maze…”
“Hedge maze?” Maytee asked.
“Some kind of dream?” Peepers supplied.
Zeke shook his head. “No, it’s… I don’t know, I’m not sure anymore, and… oh man, I remember it now, I remember it all…”
“The things it did.”
“You mean the evil you?”
“Yes… the Rat. And… gah, I can still feel… that device’s broadcast…”
Maytee’s eyes widened. “Wait,” she said, “does that mean you can control the rats?”
“Er… maybe,” Zeke said. “I’ll give it a try.” He focused on something only visible within his own head, and as he did he stood and walked out of the room, then turned to leave the building. The others followed him closely.
At the site of the attack, things had quieted down. The rats were gone, except for the ones that were dead. Mages were cleaning up after the situation.
“Hard to believe it’s over just like that,” Peepers commented.
“No,” Maytee said. “There’s still one thing we’ve got to do.” Zeke caught her meaning immediately.
“We’ve got to blow up The Moon.”
The most impossible thing about it was that he had been so thoroughly beaten.
And yet, this creature, that should by all means be completely unable to raise a hand, now grabbed the much larger creature’s arm and pulled it away from himself.
“You wanted me to fight back?” he asked. “Well, here it comes, then!”
With a twisted grin on his face, the smaller creature lunged at the larger one, and began ripping, tearing, pummeling and breaking. The larger creature, by appearance made of alabaster and jet, turned out to be flesh – and flesh can be torn, beaten, and cut.
Eerily, it made no sound at all as the smaller creature continued to savage it, until finally the conclusion was satisfactory. The small one stood. A word, etched above the door, began to glow brightly: “Crime”. Slowly, the giant stone circle rolled aside. Now laughing, a sound that could have been half hysterics and half genuine mirth but was thoroughly chilling in any capacity, the creature strode through the door, arms spread wide as if to embrace the destiny on the other side.
The door sealed itself behind him, and once the letters faded, the larger creature stood up again, her body repairing itself.
“That was unexpected, to say the least. I will have to take this into account next time,” she mused.