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Remix (another human thing she'll never teach you)
You’re running, running and the rest of them are keeping up, of course they are, useless superpowered jock teens with their sensible aerodynamic shoes, and you need them to hurry, but in this instant you almost would rather they were falling behind, that your desperation was enough to let you pull ahead of the rest of them. They were supposed to follow you, with panicked cries of “Cadaver, wait up!” as you turned through this godforsaken maze, nearly losing them as you called out for Aspen. Instead, you are trying desperately to keep up with the humans, and completely incapable of yelling anything. Erik, not even close to short of breath, looks at you, concerned, as you try to remember which fork led to the center last time. This time.
“Hey, so, uh. Not to distract from the saving-Aspen mission, but shouldn’t you have un-summoned or whatever after she died?”
Basil flinches. Erik blanches.
“Not to be rude! I’m just wondering like, are you going to randomly pop out of this realm and leave us stranded here or something?”
“It is a valid concern, but right now, technically Aspen is still alive. I’m still bound to her. Unless we fail to save her this time, we don’t have anything to worry about.”
You have plenty to worry about. This was as far back as your powers would let you jump. You need to hurry up. Her battle with Quill has already started. In ten minutes, he’ll cast the spell. In eleven minutes she’ll kill him. In eleven minutes, she will die. Not this time, of course, as long as you can get there soon enough. You take the left path. You recognize that stone. This is the way to go. You run, but not faster than the humans. Demons are not what they used to be. Aspen will understand if you are not first. Left, right, straight, right, right, left, straight, right, he will cast the spell in nine minutes. Straight, left, up, right in ten minutes, she will kill him. Left, straight, right in ten minutes she will die. Won’t die. In ten minutes she will not die.
The comm in Cassie’s hand buzzes, crackles.
It’s Aspen. Cassie panics, nearly drops it in trying to answer.
“Aspen? Aspen is that you?”
“Yeah, hey, where are you guys?” there is the sound of those horrid ink golems in the background. You aren’t close enough yet. You pick up the pace. They follow.
“We’re trying to get to you! This maze has us all turned around but-”
Basil cuts Cassie off before she can tell Aspen about your presence. This has to go exactly as it did before.
“-but we’re nearly there! Please be careful!”
“Alright! Don’t worry, y’all, this Quill guy is pretty powerful but I’ve got Cadaver! We’re- oh s***!”
Something crashes in the background. Everyone gasps.
“-haha whoops yeah anyway we’ve got this!”
Basil sighs in relief. They pass the comm back to Cassie. It buzzes again. Your voice comes through.
“We do “got this” but you should still hurry. Spellcaster against spellcaster is such a waste of power. They’ve been throwing things at each other for the last hour. I know we make this look easy, but even a second of hesitation could be fatal.”
Is that what you sound like? Damn. No wonder making contracts with mortals is so easy. You’d trust anyone with a voice like that.
You don’t make that joke out loud; Erik would definitely not laugh or high-five you for it.
It has been 7 minutes and you miss Aspen.
You are nearing the center. Right, left he will cast the spell in four minutes. Straight, right, left, left, left he will die in five minutes. Right, left, right, right, straight she will die in five minutes. You need to hurry. Basil turns to look at you.
“When we get there, what do we need to do?”
You had not told them about this part. You are not going to tell them about this part.
“Protect Aspen. Jump into battle. She slipped up, last time.”
And this time too. They are ready to help, but you aren’t sure how willing they’d be if you fully explained what you were going to do. As fond as you have grown of these humans, you are here for Aspen. If Aspen is not part of a timeline, there is no point in letting that timeline continue. It’s simple. You absorb the spell, and Aspen never has to know. The heroes of her timeline will arrive, she’ll defeat Quill.
Straight, right, straight he will cast the spell in three minutes. Left, left, right, straight, straight he will die in four minutes. Left straight, straight, straight, right you will die in four minutes. Right, right, straight, left they will die in four minutes. You can’t let them go back. She’ll keep living, happy, with that timeline’s version of you. It is a bit unfair to the others, really, since you will just rejoin with yourself. You never bothered to look into what happens to human souls in these cases. Basil clears their throat again, clearly not satisfied.
“Alright yeah obviously, but, how does she die? Or uh, how did she die? Is there anything in particular we should be watching out for or-”
You skid to a stop.
The rest of the team is looking at you now, concerned. Erik tries to ask this time.
“Well, you portaled us out of there pretty quickly. You didn’t really explain how she died.”
“I didn’t think I...needed to?”
You start running again. Two minutes left. You can’t afford to lose anymore time. She could die in three minutes. You should die in three minutes. Left. Basil runs up next to you.
“We walked into the Center to Aspen, dead on the ground, and Quill nowhere to be seen. What happened?”
“What happened?? She already told-” Oh, no.
Aspen’s headset is high-tech. Underworld quality. You would know.
In the event of a time loop, it chooses the most up-to-date version of the comm the user is trying to reach. You should have remembered. You should have known the second she contacted this version of Cassie. You have heard these conversations before.
Right, left he will cast the spell in one minute. Straight, left, left everything falls apart in two minutes. You were doomed from the start. Erik is still waiting for you to answer.
“She gets hit with a spell! It doesn’t matter! You just have to-You just-”
Thirty seconds. You definitely can’t make it in time. You couldn’t travel back far enough.
“Erik, no more questions! It’s clearly just some standard attack, we need to focus on getting to her in time!”
Everyone knows Basil is cutting him off for your sake. You would thank them, but Aspen can’t be saved anyway, so there’s no point. You failed. You will have failed. Your time is up. Right, left, and your entire reality jolts for just a second. Aspen has died. Your former self desperately revives her, wasting the precious energy you could’ve used to travel back far enough, to go after Quill, to do something, anything. Everything settles back into place. The rest of your team does not notice the change. Cassie’s comm buzzes again.
“H-Hey guys.” Her voice is shakey. This is it. You shift a bit closer, try to soak up her voice. You should give the others more space to listen, you’ve heard this all before but you just can’t back away. Everyone slows, stops running, to listen.
“Aspen? What is it?”
“I, uh, I messed up.”
“We’ll be there soon! Don’t worry!”
Cassie looks shocked.
“No, there’s, uh, no point in coming here. I was hit with this really s***ty spell. I should have noticed it coming. I underestimated him. I wasn’t expecting anyone to be dumb enough to try it. It basically linked me to Quill.”
Basil tries to cut in.
“Aspen, listen, it’ll be alright, we’re going to-”
“No. I. My life force is tied to his. I killed him. We both went down. Cadaver has me running on one of his reanimation spells until you get here but he can’t go more than a few feet away from me. We didn’t know I’d been hit at the time. Quill got back up and escaped with his Inklings.”
You can’t handle this, you really can’t. It’s happening all over again. You failure, failure, failure. Can’t even keep your summoner alive past nineteen.
“Aspen, we can find him again and-”
“And what? Lock him up? We can’t even get near Quill, he’ll just threaten to kill himself, and take me out with him. Even if we catch him, that’ll be looming over my head.”
Cassie starts running again. You keep up.
“Aspen, Erik can heal you each time! You’ll just need Cadaver to reanimate you until he gets there. We’re almost to you now!”
“That’s a horrible plan! I can’t live my life constantly being killed and having to be revived. What if he kills me at some crucial moment in a mission? He’ll keep escaping and causing trouble until we kill him for good. I need to end this game of cat and mouse now.”
This is it. Erik grabs the comm.
“Aspen, no! Wait!”
There’s a pause. She’s away talking to you - past you. You weren’t ready. You still aren’t. She turns her comm back on again.
Her teammates will be arriving at the Center any second now. You are two rights and a left away. You sit down against a wall. It’s over. Cassie is crying. Erik grips the comm tighter.
“Aspen, please, I’m going to save you!”
There’s a crackling through the speakers. You feel yourself start to desummon, no longer bound to her or the earth. She’s laughing.
“Hi going to save you, I’m dead.”