Jarrock stood with his back to Eddie and Timmy, facing out over the prison. The full moon hung directly over the prison as if it had been aligned specifically for the event. As he watched, dragons flew in, swooping down over the prison. Jarrock watched and laughed. "My children come to witness the end—and the beginning."
He raised his hands. "I speak to the universal powers," Jarrock called. "I say now: you will submit to my will. I now speak the words woven into the dreams of the proph—"
Eddie watched as Timmy raced forward and tried to shove Jarrock over the edge of the tower, forcing his shoulder into the back of Jarrock's knees. The priest did not budge. He turned back, glared down at Timmy, and backhanded him away. The boy tumbled across the stones. For a moment, he lay motionless, and Eddie wondered if he was dead. The boy groaned in pain.
Jarrock turned back to the prison and frowned.
From Eddie's vantage, he watched a dragon fly off, carrying two prisoners out with it.
"What are they doing?" Jarrock bellowed. "They mustn't!"
Another dragon swooped down, this one much closer. In the moonlight, Eddie could just make out the silhouette of a smile child, a girl, riding on the dragon's back.
Jarrock growled. "It matters not. The time is at hand." He raised his hands once more. "I now speak the words woven into the dreams of the prophets. For so it was foretold..."
What followed was so unexpected, Eddie thought he misheard. Instead of the words of some ancient language, Jarrock spoke English.
" You ready to do this, Eddie. I don't know. I'm a little nervous. Don't be. The rats made it, and they're fine, aren't they."
Jarrock spoke with dramatic force, heedless of the implied inflections, but speaking in an American English accent. Eddie stared at him, unable to look away. The priest recited two parts of a conversation—a conversation that was eerily familiar.
" The rats didn't know what they were getting into , " Jarrock continued. " Well, you know I wouldn't have subjected them to this if I didn't think it was safe. That's right. You are the rat messiah after all."
Unbidden memories flooded Eddie's mind. He was racing back in time, back to the desert, back before, through a barrier of memories as dense as a collapsing star, back to a cluttered apartment, to the rat cages, to the stale air and ozone stink, back to the void. "Rat Messiah," Eddie repeated. "Oh, God."
Jarrock continued. He spoke as if he'd recorded Eddie's conversation that afternoon, months ago—eons ago. He'd memorized every syllable that Eddie had long forgotten. " You won't go back far. Two seconds. That should be safe enough. Aloysius has done that dozens of times."
Eddie repeated the words Jarrock said next. "You think your wallpaper will change?"
Jarrock continued. " Banana wallpaper. I doubt there's any reality where'd I'd tolerate banana wallpaper. But you can prove me wrong. You ready. Guess so. It's started. I can't believe I'm doing this. This is so weird. It'll be weirder for you. You get to hear me finish a sentence—"
A brilliant light exploded in Eddie's head. He felt the overwhelming tide of universes upon universes crash upon him. A billion realities—a billion billion. So many possibilities, so many people and monsters and wars and worlds on fire. A red marble castle, a flying bicycle, a twenty-foot kangaroo with stalactite fangs, a Mongolian horde charging across Seattle. And then he found himself alone on an empty desert plain. His eyes snapped shut against the blinding noon-day brilliance. The oven heat stung his cool skin. You get to hear me finish a sentence... before I started it.
He lay senseless on the stone floor at the top of the tower, staring up at the blemished moon. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. The vision of eternity-squared left him trembling in a cold sweat. Somewhere, he heard laughter. A child's laughter. A man's laughter. Eddie couldn't tell.
"Silence," Jarrock ordered.
The laughter continued. Eddie let his head roll to one side. He found Timmy rolling on the floor, shaking in a fit of hysterical giggles. He looked strange.
And then Eddie recognized him, a face in a dusty old photo album. The child Timmy grinning out, sitting on Santa's lap. Eddie had seen Tim's face in that album. And Barlow, standing beside...
And then Eddie knew.
Jarrock took one step towards the laughing child and motioned to kick him in the side. His foot passed through the boy's body. Timmy continued to laugh as if nothing happened.
"What sorcery...?" the high priest began.
He stared down at the boy, an immaterial phantom now, still laughing out loud, his peals growing, twisting, becoming a chorus of mockery.
"I do not know what devilry this is," Jarrock said. "It matters not. Once I've drawn the life force of the prisoners and perform the final sacrifice, I will control everything." He took two steps toward the stone lever and drew it back.
The tower quaked. the sound of rending earth shook the ground far below. Eddie climbed to his knees. The prison below was bisected by a line of glowing red. Dragons swooped around, rescuing prisoners and soldiers alike, but Eddie spotted the body of a soldier falling backwards into the abyss. Eddie couldn't make sense of what he saw. The weight of universes still crushed him as he stared like a brainless cipher.
Jarrock laughed. "I can feel it. I can feel it already. He held out his hands. I can feel—"
A body soared up from the darkness below, kicking Jarrock in the face. The high priest stumbled backwards and tripped over Eddie.
The newcomer spun around and pushed the lever back in place. The collapsing prison ceased its descent, hanging in two pieces angled down towards the fiery abyss. Once she was certain the prison was safe, she spun on her heels, approaching Jarrock. Eddie just stared up at her.
The girl with the purple eyes.
She was only steps away from Jarrock when he aimed his palm at her and blasted out a beam of red power. Ruby dodged and rolled to one side, regaining her feet is quick as a ninja. She leapt and swept her foot around to kicked the man full in the throat. He lurched away, groaning, then stopped himself and blasted at her again. Ruby leapt and dodged as attack after attack lit up the night with red brilliance. One beam hit Eddie. He cringed, then realized it had passed through him without harm.
Ruby got in one more good kick. Then a jet of red lit up her left side, sending her flying back. She crashed to the stone and lay groaning.
"Not her, you bastard," Eddie screamed, finding a purpose at last. He leapt on Jarrock and pummeled his face. Jarrock struggled to free himself. He blasted Eddie again and again, but Eddie didn't feel even a tickle. The granite skin Jarrock had once had was gone. He cowered under Eddie's fists, drawing his hands up to his face, groaning and squirming.
"You want me to give you a hand with that?"
Eddie knew the voice. A chill ran up his back. He feared the memories would paralyze him again. His body quaked.
Eddie looked up. There, standing above him against the moonlight, was the adult Tim Barlow, his hair knotted in tangled dreadlocks, his eyes bespectacled once again, the old smile, tinged with a hint of sorrow.