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Chapter 16: Happy Birthday
Dirk ==> Be woken up
Aww man. No not again!
“Yes again. Rise and shine sweetcheeks!”
No Bro, not cool. Why are you calling me that?
“Heh, I am not your Bro—”
Suddenly, the sheets are cruelly and mercilessly ripped away from you. The wooden shutters of the windows are thrown open and the early morning sunlight strikes your face like a stray bolt of lightning.
“—I am your Father!”
How did he even make that reference? Star Wars won’t even be a thing for another several hundred years.
You groan, turning unhappily in the bed. “Just as bad,” you murmur. You guess Bro got that unfortunate habit of waking you up in unpleasant ways from somewhere. Then again, you do recall literally throwing your little bro Dave into a freezing cold shower with all his clothes on not too long ago. And making it rain smuppets on him.
Heh. You guess it is sort of fun.
But it’s not fun right now. Not when you’re the one being yanked out of bed when you were so peacefully drifting away in slumberland.
You groggily sit up in bed, rubbing your eyes. Blindly, you reach for the shades you left on the table only to find that they’re not there. You sit up suddenly, completely alert and filled with fear that AR, your one link aside from Lord English to the future, is gone. But you heave a sigh of relief when you realize your dad has them.
He’s turning them over between his fingers nimbly, examining them curiously. “You wear these triangles on your face all the time, but they do not seem to improve your vision at all. What is the point?”
“The point is they’re cool,” you say, smirking at him as he gingerly places them over his eyes.
Dave’s frown is perfectly visible beneath your shades. “I think you and I have very different definitions of cool.”
Your father hands you back your shades and heads for the door, calling behind him, “same drill as yesterday. Come out when you are done.”
Today you opt for the bath first, desperately trying to rub away the filth that seems to stick to everything in this past world. You swear you’ve never collected this much dirt to your body in one day without trying.
By the time you finish bathing, little Dirk has already run outside to play with your father. You can hear his high pitched giggles and the sound of his tiny feet as he runs in the grass. Dave pretends to run by the window in extra slow-motion. Given the height of the window all you see of little Dirk is a flash of blonde hair as he runs by. You can’t help smirking when you hear the heavy thump of Dave hitting the grass followed by a very high pitched and very amused squeal of delight from the little you. “Ahh! You got me!” Dave fake groans.
A plate of fried eggs and cornmeal is placed in front of you, drawing your attention to Rose. “Cute, is it not? I could watch them all day,” she murmurs fondly, taking a seat across the table from you.
“Yeah,” you agree absently, taking a few bites of her cooking. Good as usual.
Rose rests her chin in her palm and gazes at you for a few moments before saying, “you do not remember any of this, do you?”
You half-choke on a piece of egg but force it down. Cautiously, you gaze at her, wondering if she will be upset if you answer truthfully. “I—”
But the look on her face is calm, and there is only a small hint of sadness in her violet eyes. “None remember events from before the age of two, and few recall memories at his age,” she says, indicating out the window at little Dirk, who is chasing Dave around yet again. “I do not expect you to remember much.”
“I remember your faces a little. I thought you were both a lot taller,” you admit, still feeling a bit guilty despite her words.
Rose chuckles, and you begin to feel a bit more at ease. “Ah, the life of a 2 year old.”
“Hey, my birthday’s tomorrow,” you remind her.
“Why so it is!” She agrees. “Is there anything you would like for your birthday, dear?”
You swallow the suddenly flavorless lump of cornmeal in your mouth and place your fork down on the table. If only she could give you that. But you know it isn’t possible. You know that the one thing you would give anything to have just might be the one thing you can never have again.
Rose catches your tension immediately, and you find her hand on yours. Her thumb rubs soothing circles onto the back of your hand. “Dirk, you will figure it out. The little you is such a smart boy already at 2. I can only imagine how intelligent you are now.”
“Thanks,” you murmur, though you don’t really register saying the word. You more say it out of obligation, because you know you have to say something.
Your mother is quick to catch on, as usual. “Jake gave you something, did he not? Something that broke?”
“Yeah,” you murmur, feeling the weight of the broken gun shards suddenly heavy in your pocket. “Yeah he did.”
“May I see it?” She asks.
Carefully, you retrieve all the pieces from your pocket and lay them out on the table. Against the stark contrast of the wood, Jake’s gun looks like bright starlight. The one shot that he gave you at defeating Lord English. And you wasted it.
Rose observes the pieces critically, turning a few of them over on the table. “What exactly is this device? What does it do?”
“It has several names, but the most common ones are ‘gun’ or ‘firearm,’” you reply. Your voice softens as you remember fondly, “Jake loved his ‘pistols.’ They are long-range weapons propelled by explosive force. At least, typical ones are. This one might be a little different.”
Rose doesn’t say anything during your explanation. She opts to merely watch you as you speak, absorbing your words carefully. Then, she turns her attention back to the fragments. After a few seconds, she decides, “I can fix this.”
“You can?” you ask, stunned. You kind of assumed that the gun was toast and that you would never have that chance to kill Jake again. You kind of hoped that was true.
But if your mother knows that, she doesn’t let on. Instead, she carefully gathers the pieces together and almost as an afterthought asks, “would you like me to mend it?”
A few tense moments pass as you gaze into her lavender eyes through your shades. Then, you nod stiffly. “Yes. Please.”
It’s what Jake would have wanted. You have to do it.
Rose nods, placing all the pieces neatly in a handkerchief and tying it together. “I will have this ready for you by tomorrow. I trust that will be ok?”
“Of course,” you mumble out. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome,” she replies. Though she smiles at you, it seems forced, and you can sense that she is not truly happy with the task. She isn’t happy because she knows what it means.
You feel weirdly like a peeping Tom doing it, but you decide to dip into her thoughts. Your mind resists a bit, like the protest of a stiff muscle after a day of heavy labor, but eventually your hearing opens to her mind. Your mother’s voice calmly washes over you.
“—he is so sad. My poor son. I wish I could make him happy.”
“It is a bit rude, you know, to peek into other people’s minds,” Rose points out, a small coy smile on her lips. She knows she caught you.
“Sorry,” you murmur, drawing your mental reach back.
“Worry not. I am happy that Dave has managed to show you how to hone that skill,” she says. Then, she presses her hand to her back and groans. “Oh… any day now. This child is coming—”
“Tomorrow,” you finish for her, a tiny smirk crossing your own lips. “His birthday is the same as mine.”
“Truly?” she breaths in disbelief.
“Yeah, I know. Somehow you manage to have two kids on the same day. I think you win some sort of prize for that,” you murmur.
She gazes down fondly at her stomach, lightly rubbing the swollen lump with her fingertips. Gently, she coos to it, “did you hear that, little one? I get to meet you tomorrow, Michael.”
You freeze, trying not to let your shock show. Before Rose can look up and somehow magically see your surprise, you quickly rise from the table. “Well better meet Dave outside. Wouldn’t want to keep Dave waiting. Nope. Not Dave.”
Does your voice sound a little weird? You think it kind of does for some reason, but you brush it off.
Outside, you find little Dirk climbing up Dave’s arm. Your father’s eyes are on you. Wordlessly, he taps his temple with the hand that isn’t being climbed by a small child.
It’s a signal to read his thoughts. Sighing, you focus on him, plunging into his mind.
“Smooth,” he thinks pointedly to you. ”I doubt she figured that one out. Nope. Not at all.”
Then, his lips twist into a tiny frown. “Michael. That would have been a nice name. A bit overused but nice. I wonder why she will decide to change it?” He glares at you. ”It better not be your fault.”
“Hey, his name is still Dave in my memories, so it’s not like she changes her mind. Unless this is now an alternate reality, in which case—” You think back, your brain suddenly beginning to muse about the implications of time travel.
“Stop right there. Not worth thinking about it,” Dave thinks back at you. Then, he turns to little Dirk, holding up the arm that he’s climbing.
The little you laughs and slides to Dave’s shoulder. You watch the scene in awe. That carefree laughter. You don’t remember ever being that happy. Obviously, something is about to change soon. Something that will scar you forever.
You set your jaw as your lips threaten to pull down into a frown. Nope. You aren’t thinking about that right now. You’ll deal with whatever happens when it happens.
Dave turns to you and says, “that reminds me. There is something I need to show you.” He heaves little Dirk onto his back and carries him back into the house.
Little Dirk pouts a bit when he’s dropped off by his blocks, but he quickly becomes absorbed in building the best tower again.
Then Dave beacons you to his bedroom.
You feel like you’re intruding on sacred space, entering your parents’ bedroom. But looking around, you realize it’s just like any other bedroom. Simple furniture, plain walls. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Only one thing out of the ordinary, actually,” Dave says, walking to the corner of the room where he shoves away a decorative rug to reveal a trapdoor beneath. He pulls it open and begins descending down a narrow set of wooden stairs.
The stairs lead deep down into the earth. You follow him down. After quite some time, your feet touch the stone floor of at the bottom of the stairs. You wait while Dave lights a torch, revealing a dingy pathway trailing into the dark ahead.
You’ve never been claustrophobic, and you haven’t been afraid of the dark since you were a very small child. But something about this pathway instantly floods you with a sense of dread. It’s so strong that you actually balk a bit, not wanting to follow Dave.
He tosses you a lopsided grin from up ahead. “What, really? Come on. My son better not be the one fully grown incubus that’s scared of the dark.”
“He’s not,” you murmur, then shake your head. “I’m not. It’s this place. Something about it—”
Dave frowns, then he’s by your side in a flash of speed. Gently, he touches your arm and says, “hey, it’s ok. I built this myself. Promise we are the scariest monsters down here.”
You remain doubtful but allow your father to gently pull you along. Your father’s presence makes walking down the pathway easier, but you can’t shake the feeling that something about this pathway is immensely wrong.
Instead of building on your concern, you decide to distract yourself with observing the craftsmanship of the passageway. The entire path is lined in stones, which interlock neatly to keep out the dirt and mud. Even with the strength and speed of an incubus, you are certain it took Dave a long time to build this.
“A good month,” he admits, responding to your unspoken thoughts. “But this pathway is not the cause. We are almost there.”
Finally, you reach it. The room at the end is like a small bachelor-pad. Without the mini-fridge.
The room is a decent size. The size of Dave’s living room, you would estimate. There is a bed, a small cabinet that you would guess contains food, and a stockpile of torches for lighting. Suddenly, you know exactly what this room is intended for, and your body stills as a chill goes up your spine.
It’s a hideout shelter. In case something terrible were to happen.
“Right you are,” Dave agrees. “The Condesce does not waste time. If she has warned us of an attack, that means it will literally be on our doorstep soon.”
“An attack? But why?” you ask, feeling overwhelmed with this place for some reason. You can’t pinpoint why, but this room makes you feel extremely uncomfortable. It tugs at the corners of your memory, and for some reason you can’t quite place it.
“You may not have realized it, but there is a war going on. We are as of yet removed from the carnage and destruction, but that does not mean it does not exist,” Dave explains quietly. “The death toll is steep on both sides, human and demon.”
“The war is headed this way,” you murmur, placing your father’s words together. “Does that mean that Lord English is headed this way?”
“He is,” Dave responds quietly. “I think you know what that means.”
You’re silent. Dave is silent. No sound but the occasional crackle of the torch reaches your ears this far below the ground, and the only light is from the gentle flicker of the torch light.
Eventually, he asks, “have you decided which side you are on?”
“The side of humanity and demonkind. I fight for everyone,” you answer easily. It’s what you’ve always done. What Bro has always taught you to do.
“A worthy cause,” Dave admits. He eyes you a bit harder than before, and his expression seems more tense as he asks, “now answer this. Can you bear to be without your Jake?”
“I don’t fucking know. Can’t you just pull that answer out of my head or something?” you snap back.
Dave stares at you silently, waiting patiently for you to do something. But you’re not sure what he wants you to do. Where does he get off just coming into your life and suddenly asking you these difficult things and being your father and holy shit are you having a teenage angst tantrum or what?
You calm your shit down. And you stop. And in the darkness of that disconcerting cellar room, with just you and your father, you realize the truth.
“The world can’t exist with two Lord Englishes, so does it matter?” you ask solemnly.
You feel your soul crack, a piece of it splintering off from the rest. And something within you dies.
Because up until now, you had thought that maybe it would be ok to just ignore things. To let him go and let the problem fix itself. Maybe Jake could break out of it somehow. Maybe there was a chance that Lord English could just go away.
But you know that will never happen. You love Jake, and you’ve been carefully observing him for several months now. You know he’s strong-willed and has been giving his all in this fight against Lord English. If he is still in there, that is. You know that Jake would never half-ass anything. That he’s certainly been trying as hard as he can to break free.
But he hasn’t. Lord English is still fueling the fires of this war, which means that Jake hasn’t come back to himself.
And he never will.
Because suddenly you realize it. Jake isn’t there anymore. If he was, you’re certain he would have broken free. He would have. He must have.
Your adorable dorky boyfriend, who smiles with that fucking cute as hell bucktooth grin, who you count on 100% to have your back fighting the forces of evil, who plays games with you all night, who gave you his love, his mind, his everything.
Jake English is gone, and you are never getting him back.
How the fuck are you supposed to deal with this? How the fuck do you force yourself to get over the loss of the one man you have ever loved with your entire heart? Is that even possible?
But you can’t allow your own feelings to get in the way of this. If you screw this up, then it’s not just your life that gets ruined. It’s not even just your family. It’s the whole world. And for all you know, it might not even just be the world. It could be the universe. It could be Derse too. And Prospit. And several other universes.
Like it or not, you only have one option.
“He has to die,” you murmur, your voice barely a whisper.
But Dave hears it. He’s probably heard your whole line of miserable thoughts. You’re aware of his arms coming around you, pulling you close. You feel him feed you his sympathy, his compassion. You vaguely wonder how he did that and you try to think about it but you can’t—you just can’t.
He holds you while you cry.
* * *
Dirk ==> Wake up
“Hey, rise and shine, Dirk.”
Is it really the morning already? You barely remember the rest of yesterday. Dave put you back to sleep shortly after you came out of that awful underground room. Rose and little Dirk were nowhere in sight, and for that you were very glad.
Dave’s here now, rubbing your arm lightly and telling you to wake up. “Today is it. Are you ready?”
“No,” you grumble miserably.
“Better than yesterday?” he asks.
“Yeah,” you reluctantly agree. You’re not sure how, but somehow you are ready for this. Your resolve is set to kill and you can do it. You can.
“Good,” Dave says. “See you outside.”
He leaves you to your own thoughts. Surprisingly, your head is extremely clear. After yesterday’s delightful revelation, there is little to be conflicted over anymore. The tough decision is over. Now all you’ll have to do is decide how to possibly pick up the pieces of your life after you kill him.
If you even can.
You check your shades for AR but find that he is still offline. Reluctantly, you leave the room and start the day.
Little Dirk is on you like a magnet, clinging to your leg while simultaneously screaming and laughing, “It’s my BIRTHDAY!!! DID YOU HEAR THAT??? MY BIRTHDAY!!!”
“Yeah, I heard you the first time,” you mutter, but you can’t help the smirk that rises to your lips. You ruffle his hair fondly and bait him with the question, “oh man, I forgot. How old are you again?”
“THREE!!!” He screams. Then he detaches himself from you and runs into the kitchen, circling the table three times, then running off to do a bunch of other things exactly three times.
“He has so much energy, I never thought he would eat his breakfast,” Rose smiles, placing a plate of fried potatoes and ham on the table.
You sit down and dig in. A second later, you hear something else hit the table. Something heavy.
You look over to find the pristine silver metal gun that Jake gave you a few days ago. It’s completely whole again. Shockingly, there isn’t even a scratch on it.
For a moment, you marvel at the work before daring to touch it. “Rose, it’s—it’s perfect. How did you do it?”
Rose winks at you. “I have my ways. Happy Birthday, Dirk.”
“Thank you,” you murmur softly, taking the weapon and turning it over in your hands a few times. It really does look like new.
“There were a few bullets already pre-loaded in the chambers. I took the liberty of keeping it loaded for you, but please, do use caution,” she says, glancing fondly down at her swollen belly. “Soon there will be two children present.”
“Yes, there will,” you comment, trying your hardest to remember when Dave is born. You can’t.
The morning is calm and warm. A soft airy breeze drifts in through the window and the only sounds in the house are those of little Dirk, screaming as he tears from room to room. He runs into his room and runs back out with something that makes your heart leap up into your throat.
“Lil’ Cal!!! Lil’ Cal LOOK!!” he shouts, a familiar looking puppet that’s as big as he is draped over his shoulder, dangling down his back as he runs. “It’s my birthday today SEE???”
The puppet looks exactly the same as you remember. Maybe his colors are a little brighter, not as faded as they are now.
Actually, you aren’t even really sure anymore. You put Lil’ Cal away in a box a long time ago, and eventually that box disappeared. You were so upset at yourself for losing him for a while, but eventually you got over it.
But seeing Lil’ Cal again, and how much the little you loves playing with him already, brings a smile to your face. Before you leave, you’ll have to tell the little you never to put his treasured puppet away.
“Dave and I worked on that puppet together for weeks,” Rose says, the smile huge on her lips as she watches her son run around with his newest favorite toy. “Dirk has been glued to it all morning.”
“He’ll love it for a very long time,” you assure her.
She glances up at you in surprise, but then her expression settles back on a calm smile. There’s a warmth in her eyes that tells you she’s extremely happy to hear that.
Suddenly, a loud booming sound echoes off in the distance.
You tense, funneling all of your energy into your ears, trying desperately to hear anything more. The house is completely silent, and even the little you has stopped running and screaming.
A few seconds later, the sound echoes through the forest and in through the windows again, slightly louder than last time.
Dave suddenly throws open the front door, a grim expression on his face. His eyes are hard-set as he turns to Rose and says, “it’s here. Get into the shelter. Take Dirk and do not leave until I come for you.”
Then, he turns to you. “Come with me. We do not have much time.”
Rose is on her feet, rushing to Dave’s side as quickly as she can. She brushes a hand along his cheek, placing a soft kiss on his lips. “Please, come back safely, my love.”
Dave nods several times more than necessary, but he makes no promises. His voice is tense as he says, “I love you, my dear. More than anything, I love you.”
The booming sound echoes through the house again, and little Dirk seems to have finally caught on that something is wrong. He tugs on his father’s pant leg, dragging Lil’ Cal behind him as he looks up with worried eyes. “Daddy why are you sad?”
Dave doesn’t answer him. Instead, he kneels down and sweeps the boy up in a hug. “Dirk, I am so proud of you. Do not ever forget that. Grow up big and strong. Protect the people that cannot protect themselves.”
“Daddy?” he asks quietly, far too solemnly for a little kid on his third birthday. “Daddy are you coming back?”
“I love you, Dirk,” Dave says. He takes a short shaky breath and hugs him tighter. “Be good. Be good to your mother, ok?”
“Ok,” little Dirk replies softly.
Then Dave is standing, and Rose is hugging him. They whisper some words to each other, embracing tightly.
And then the moment is over. Reluctantly, he lets her go. Rose’s fingers cling around his for one extra second. They both look at their interlocked fingers, then back at each other. There’s some silent understanding between them that you don’t suppose you will ever know about.
But it exists between them, and it’s real. It’s just as real as your love for Jake.
When their fingers finally break away from each other, both turn immediately to business. Rose quickly collects little Dirk and ushers him to the bedroom, where you know they will descend into the dark depths of the hidden cellar bedroom.
Dave is quick to usher you outside the door. By now, you can smell the carnage in the air, as the blood of both humans and demons mixes in the air. The scent of charred flesh combines with the natural smell of the forest in a foul blend that makes you frown.
“This is your last chance to turn back,” Dave informs you grimly.
“And I won’t,” you assure him. You have to save this world. You can’t let this destruction continue.
“I was hoping you would say that,” he replies. “You have the weapon that can kill him right? Rose repaired it for you?”
“Yeah,” you agree quietly.
“You know you’re the only one that can use it, right?” he asks.
You look at him in surprise. You didn’t know that.
“I looked it over after Rose mended it. It seems your boyfriend tailored it to you and you alone,” Dave explains. When you take out the gleaming silver gun and eye it, he points out the intricate patterns on the gun. “The runes he carved onto it must have taken him some time. He must trust you quite a bit to give that to you.”
The thought hits you like a stab in the chest. Jake made this for you. He always intended for you to kill him. You trail your thumb along the gleaming grooves that Jake painstakingly carved just for you.
Dave leans in closer to you. “I’ll ask you again. Can you do it?”
You nod stiffly. “Yeah. Yeah, I can.”
Your father eyes you in a peculiar way, as if he’s gauging something that you can’t see. Eventually, he turns and leads the way to the village. “All right. Then let us go.”
* * *
Dirk ==> Kick some ass
Yeah, that’s really not what you would call it. By the time you and Dave reach the town, half of it is already on fire. Lord English works quickly. Speaking of the demon, he’s nowhere in sight, but you can sense that he’s here.
The town is overrun with demons and humans, both fighting and creating piles of corpses.
“Such needless violence,” Dave growls lowly.
“These people,” you murmur. “We were reading their thoughts just two days ago. They’re normal people, with families and lives and–”
“I know these people even better than you. I know some of these demons too,” Dave says, turning to you and abruptly cutting you off. “We will not get involved in this war, understand? Our target is singular and clear. Lord English. Until we find him and kill him, pay no heed to anything else you see here.”
It is difficult, but you do. You force that cold-hearted part of you to rise to the surface again. The same fraction of you that killed your friend Eridan twice.
Sticking to the shadows, you both move silently and stealthily through the village. You ignore the cries and pleas for help from the burning homes around you. You don’t bat an eyelash as demons and humans fall around you, sometimes not even a foot away as you move through the disaster zone that is the village.
And suddenly, you see him. Lord English.
The horrible green monster towers even taller than you last remember him. His green robes are more frayed than before, billowing out around him like the grim reaper’s cloak. He tears humans through the windows of their homes, crunching their bones as rips them apart and throws them to the ground.
Even the demons that follow him even leave a large radius around him. You wonder why until one winged demon flies just a bit too close. Lord English is quick to snatch him from the air by his wings, pinching them together and breaking them before crushing its body with a sickening snap.
Then, Lord English’s jaw unhinges like that of a snake, a bright light protruding forth. The wispy soul of the demon is pulled from its body, screaming and wailing as it swirls down into the green demon’s maw.
If Her Imperious Condescension is correct, and you are inclined to believe she is, that’s one demon that will never find its way to Derse. Unlike Vriska, Damara, Eridan and all the other demons you have slain, that poor demon will never return to any realm. Lord English has consumed its soul for all eternity.
“How is your aim?” Dave asks, shouting above the sound of the raging war. “Can you hit him from here?”
“Good enough, but no. I can’t from here,” you respond. Lord English is too far away. You have no doubt that Jake would be able to nail Lord English this far away, but there is no way you can. You haven’t had extensive training with firearms like he has. You’re far more fond of your blade. “If I can get close enough, it won’t matter.”
“A Strider’s weakness,” Dave says, shaking his head. “We have to get in close for the kill. So close that our very hearts are jeopardized. As it is true in our fighting style, it is also true in love.”
You understand his metaphors all too well. Still, you snort and reply, “if you’re trying to give me a birds and bees talk, you’re a few hundred years too late.”
“Right. Bro carries the torch from here, yes?” Dave asks. You’re really not surprised he read all of that in your thoughts, but somehow his words strike you as odd. Maybe it’s the way he’s saying it. Maybe it’s the knowing look in his eyes, the tiny Strider smirk. “Thank him for me, will you? I owe him the lives of my sons.”
Something else about that strikes you as odd, but you don’t really have time to think about it. There’s a war going on, and you can’t afford to spend too much time dwelling on your father’s mannerisms.
“I will,” you reply. You really hope you see Bro again soon. He had to have bested the Midnight Crew. You hope that when you get back to your own time he’ll be waiting for you. And you can tell him all about this time in your past while he makes you drink some nasty blood, but you won’t care. It’ll be good just to talk to him again.
For some reason, you’re really starting to miss that fucker.
Reluctantly, Dave turns his gaze back to the demon rampaging in the distance. “We should not waste any more time.”
“Agreed,” you murmur, focusing your attention back on Lord English. “Lord English is powerful but he’s slow. If I can get in close enough, I can take him down.”
“Then I will get you close enough,” Dave says grimly. “I will distract him so that you can slip in and kill him before he notices you.”
You’re really going to do it. You’re going to kill Jake.
There’s no more time for regrets. You decided this yesterday. You’re going through with this because Jake’s not there anymore.
“Ok,” you murmur quietly, agreeing to his plan. You draw the shining silver gun from your pocket. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Dave flashes you a trademark Strider grin. “Try to keep up.”
In a burst of speed, Dave flash-steps ahead. He takes a different path to the demon, circling around to approach him from another angle so that Lord English won’t see you coming. He moves freely like the wind, leaping and circling around the demons and humans fighting through the streets.
You’re not quite as graceful as him, but you also manage to make it to Lord English unscathed. The homes are all on fire in this part of the village, so you don’t have the luxury of much cover. Ashes fly in front of your face, and the heat is sweltering, pulsing in visible waves around you. You do your best to ignore the distractions of battle as you press forward.
Finally, you make it close enough that you could shoot and be confident that you would not miss. You flatten your back against the wall of a not fully burned building, steadying your aim as you gaze intently at the demon.
Lord English isn’t at the right angle. Jake specified that he had to be shot through the heart for this to work. You don’t want to waste your chance and miss.
So, you watch as Dave begins his assault on Lord English. The flashing metal of his katana collides with reptilian green skin and sharp gleaming claws. Dave is brilliant. Your father is easily one of the best fighters you have ever seen. He easily evades Lord English’s attacks, and he strikes many blows that should be critical hits on him.
Except that they aren’t. Dave’s attacks don’t even appear to be piercing the demon’s skin. But they are doing a fantastic job of distracting him.
Lord English turns several times, twisting and contorting his body in unusual ways that you think shouldn’t be possible. Repeatedly, he swipes at Dave, but he is never quick enough to catch your father.
Several times, you could have had a shot. If you were certain enough of your aim and fast enough. But you aren’t. Guns just aren’t your thing.
“Damn it Jake, this isn’t fair,” you mutter under your breath. “Why can’t you be the one with the gun?”
You thought you were saying it quietly. You didn’t expect anyone to hear you.
But for some reason, a second later, the monster turns his terrifying multicolored gaze to you.
And you hear it.
“Jake?” you whisper in disbelief, your voice strained. It was Jake’s voice coming from behind those demonic eyes. You’re positive of it. And that means one terrible truth. For once in your life, you were wrong. You were wrong about the very worst thing possible.
Jake’s not dead.
“Oh no. No no no no no no—” You murmur, your eyes widening behind your shades as you struggle to keep the gun aimed at Lord English.
This isn’t fair. This isn’t fucking fair! Jake’s alive and you have to kill him and—
And maybe you’re wrong. Yes. Maybe just maybe you are wrong about being wrong and Jake isn’t really in there and you can have absolutely no reservations about blowing this demon away and fucking damn it, focus Dirk!
Determinedly, you look into Lord English’s multicolored gaze and dip into his mind.
DIRK STRIDER. DON’T YOU LOVE. WATCHING YOUR WORLD BURN?
Lord English’s voice is like broken glass in your mind. The very sound of it is nauseating. But mixed with it, layered underneath it, is another voice. Much milder. Gentler. One that you have come to love with your entire soul.
Dirk… oh no… Dirk please don’t hesitate again! Do it. Kill me! End this monster’s tyranny!
You feel your stomach in your throat. He’s asking you to kill him, but how can you possibly do that? How can you do that now that you know he’s alive? You can hear his fucking voice in your head and god fucking damn it how is this even fair?
“It’s not fair. Pull yourself together, Dirk!” Dave’s voice rises above the sounds of the battle around you, but you’re frozen in place.
Lord English is focusing on you now. He isn’t even looking at Dave, who continues to try and fail to pierce the demon’s skin. Somehow amiss all this, you manage to think that Lord English wasn’t this powerful before? In Bro’s stories Lord English could be defeated. He wasn’t invincible by any means, so why does it seem so impossible now?
Dirk please… please hurry! I don’t want to see you die, Dirk. Please don’t make me watch you die. Kill me. Kill me. KILL ME!!!
You cock the hammer of the gun and aim for Lord English’s heart.
The world slows down around you.
The ashes from the burning buildings drift past your vision. Lord English slowly makes his way to you, a wicked grin on his face. Even the color of his eyes seems to shift slower, lingering on blue, red, green—
You swear for a minute you see Jake’s eyes. And you think of Jake, the one love of your life, trapped inside that horrible monster.
And despite your resolve yesterday and today, despite everything you have ever worked for, despite the fate of the world and the universe and ALL the universes—
You can’t kill him.
And all you can do is watch as Lord English comes closer.
Until you can feel the dark energy pulsating out of him. See the individual scales of his body. Smell the acrid scent of pure evil. And hear his voice like poison in your skull.
DIE DIRK STRIDER. DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!
Why aren’t you killing me Dirk? Why—why aren’t you doing it? Oh god Dirk, I’m sorry for putting you in this position. I should never have done that. I’m so sorry. I love you.
“Love you too, Jake,” you say outloud. Loud enough for it to reach those horrible green ears. Loud enough for Jake to hear you.
Lord English reaches for you, but this time you know he won’t go for your gun first. His claws are aimed straight for your heart.
You laugh at the horrible irony of it. Lord English can rip out your heart and after that he can kill you and eat your soul, but it won’t matter. The one you gave your heart to is gone, trapped forever. And without him, your life has no meaning.
Your end is coming, and somehow, you don’t mind. Yes, you could stop it, but you don’t. You feel the sharpness of the monster’s claws rip through your shirt and pierce the soft flesh your skin.
And suddenly, he falls to the right.
A bright flash of red follows the monster down, and you catch a glimpse of your father, tackling him to the ground, his bright red cape flowing behind him. He’s wearing a fucking cape? You were so caught up with everything that you didn’t even realize that.
And what are you doing thinking about a fucking cape right now? Shouldn’t your mind be on other things? Like Jake? Lord English? Dave?
Lord English lands on the ground with a loud thud, his massive body sending dust and debris flying into the air. Dave is only on him for a couple seconds, long enough to get him away from you.
But it’s a couple seconds too long.
Lord English seizes the opportunity. You can feel his wicked glee as he snatches Dave in between his claws. Your father’s katana goes flying out of his hands and lands in the dirt by your feet.
“DAD!!!” You scream, because you know what’s been put into motion. You know what’s happening and yes, somehow you are certain that Lord English is the reason your father died.
Dave looks back at you, and for a moment, your eyes lock with his. It’s all you need to sense his apprehension and his fear. But you also sense his stoic resolve. The overwhelming sense of pride he has just looking at you. You don’t hesitate to plunge into his thoughts.
“Heh, looks like this is it,” Dave thinks at you, his eyes unblinking, not wanting to look away. Your thought conversation is rapid, much quicker than if you had to say everything out loud.
“I couldn’t kill him. I couldn’t fucking kill him! I’m so sorry—” you think back quickly. “And because I couldn’t kill him, you’re going to—”
“Do not be sorry. Dirk, nothing could make me any more proud of you than I already am. I am so glad that I had a chance to see the man my son will grow up to be,” he thinks at you. “Take my katana. Consider it a birthday gift.”
You glance down at the katana then quickly back up at him.
“Yep, that’s the one. I hope it serves you well,” he thinks. Then, you hear him audibly groan. Lord English is squeezing him, and you’re certain you heard a few unnatural cracks of his bones. “Tell Rose—I am sorry I could not be there to see the birth of our second son.”
“I will,” you think back, wondering just how you’re going to get out of this mess.
“You will get out of this mess because you are going to run. RUN, DIRK!!!” Dave thinks at you one final time.
With one last loud snap, Dave’s body goes limp. Lord English unhinges his jaw.
You don’t watch as your father’s soul flies from his body and down the beast’s throat. You’ve failed. You’ve failed and now the whole universe is fucked up but you don’t know what you’re going to do about it.
You snatch up your father’s katana and flashstep away.