Chapter 29


There was no time for Julian to react. His eyes had barely cleared from the burst of light that had flashed into Hiroki and then back out into Rabbit--Phineas would later explain that the “light” they’d all seen was the closest approximation their minds could make of that sort of energy--when Sasha went over the edge of the building. His head was splitting, his body recovering from the feeling that it was being shredded one inch of tissue at a time, and the sudden heave of alarm in his gut wasn’t helping.

In a way, it was probably for the best that he was given no time to really process what had happened--to Hiroki or Rabbit or Sasha. He barely had time to register that any of it had happened at all before the ziggurat shuddered. Something shifted out of place, because of the backlash of power or the abrupt disconnection of the control they’d had over the building, maybe. The metal framework of the monument groaned and then shrieked as it began to warp, twisting in on itself.

Cross yelled Caine’s name. Julian’s course of motion was already committed in Rabbit’s direction, and in turning back toward the temple, he almost overbalanced and tumbled down the stairs.

By the time he had righted himself, Surge had beaten him there. Grabbing Caine by the shoulder, he shoved him toward Julian, propelling him out of the building as it collapsed inward, encasing Surge in warped, shuddering metal. Julian couldn’t even catch a glimpse before he was gone.

Cross yelled again, this time a wordless sound of shock. Too stunned to make any noise himself, Julian caught Caine, who seemed only half aware of his surroundings.

“The Impulse--”

Julian shook his head, mute in disbelief. He wanted to push Caine away, let Cross worry about him, and try to pull aside the metal sheets that had cut Surge off from sight. Something was wrong and he needed help; if he were okay, he’d have escaped in an arc of electricity and rematerialized beside Julian.

He wasn’t given time to act. The building continued to collapse in on itself and, determined as he was not to lose Surge, Julian didn’t resist when Caine regained his senses somewhat and began to drag him back down the stairs. He wasn’t afraid--he could heal any injuries from the destruction. It was something else that made him follow Caine without protest, some sense of finality or composure that was left over from their alignment. As painful as it was for the legend to die, it almost seemed right.

At the bottom of stairs, Cross was bodily dragging Phineas across the lowest tier. He was protesting, but Julian couldn’t hear him over the noise. He didn’t need to; it was so like Phineas to be more worried about the loss of a scientific relic than about the possibility of being crushed to death by one.

She reached Rabbit with Phineas just before Julian and Caine did. Rabbit gazed at them with placid, dark eyes, dazed and unflustered. Julian had no time to think about how strange it was to see his face without its normal creases of anxiety.

“We have to get down! Now!” Cross’s voice was strong, not the least bit shrill.

Beside her, Phineas stared around at all of them, unmoving on the trembling building. Then he nodded, decisive, and, bracing both hands against Rabbit’s arm, pushed him toward the escape route Jin had set up for them: a makeshift ladder bolted into the bottom tier of the ziggurat and leading down to the window he had come up from.

Rabbit moved with unexpected docility, but stopped beside the ladder and would go no further. It was Cross who descended first, yelling up at Caine to follow as she reached the bottom. She wouldn’t let him be the last to leave this time and Julian understood why. He stood aside to let the young father follow his fiancé, watching him closely in case he was too weak to make the climb. Whatever had happened to him while he was in the temple, it had left him physically shaken.

He made the descent with agonizing sluggishness. Leaning over the edge, Julian exhaled in relief when Cross’s arms pulled him through the window below.

Straightening, he nudged Phineas to go next. Phineas scowled, looked about to protest, either out of some misguided filial loyalty or, more likely, because he was reluctant to leave the giant toy he’d just been playing with behind.

Julian leaned in close before he could speak, but still had to raise his voice to be heard over the destruction of the ziggurat’s inner workings: “Your wife’s expecting.”

The shift in Phineas’s demeanor was slightly less than instantaneous, but it was fast enough to be admirable. His brow smoothed out and he nodded once. Stepping away, he crouched to get onto the ladder. The bolts holding it in place were already beginning to shake loose, and Julian wanted to yell in frustration. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see that the destruction, which had started with the temple, was catching up to them quickly. In a moment, there would be no surface left to stand on.

Staring at the compressed metal, Julian knew there was no way Surge had survived. He also know there was no way he or Rabbit would survive either.

Still, Phineas paused at the edge, looking past Julian at the destruction. Then his gaze shifted up to Julian, forlorn.

There wasn’t time.

Julian hesitated, smiled at his brother. It’s okay. It’s okay, I’ll be fine. Go on.

Whether he understood the silent plea or not, Phineas reached out, gave him a hesitant and overly gentle punch in the leg, then scrambled down the ladder like a spider, all limbs and angles. Julian watched him go and turned to Rabbit. There might be time--

“Rabbit, hurry--!”

Rabbit reached toward him. His tattoos were ghostly against his skin, gossamer webs that seemed to flow as Julian looked at them.

The world turned outside in, was sucked through a straw, spit out across ground, and when it righted itself, they were standing in the street and Julian was retching onto the pavement.

He stayed bent over, breath heaving, while a fine mist of debris from above spattered them for several moments. Tilting his head back, he stared upward at fireworks of gears and metal scraps thirty stories above the skyway and wondered absently why none of those bigger pieces were hitting them.

Rabbit’s hand was still on his arm, unexpectedly warm and alive. With a start, Julian straightened up. That feeling was familiar, but he couldn’t place it through the relief and confusion muddling his thoughts. It was a far cry from the dead silence that Rabbit’s touch normally brought, though. Rabbit looked unperturbed.

It was minutes before the inorganic rain stopped, accompanied by the cessation of the now-faint noise above them. Julian still couldn’t breath properly. He tried to focus, imagining the others hurrying down the stairs, wondering what had become of them. Slowly, his mind cleared.

“The others...?”

“They’re coming.” Rabbit sighed and his expression fell into an approximation of the sullen expression Julian was used to. “Stop gasping like that. You’re fine.”

It was true. The instant he stopped struggling for breath, it came easily. “What just--?”

“It came to me instead.”

Julian stared. The flash that had knocked Hiroki out of the sky replayed in his mind’s eye, followed by another, brighter flash in the corner of his eye that had made his vision darken.

That couldn’t mean what he thought it did. “What do you...” He could vaguely hear his brother’s voice calling his name, but didn’t turn to look as he tried to process what Rabbit was telling him.

“I’m the God Who Becomes.”