Monitor duty at the Barlowe. Such a chore, not the way any sane man wanted to spend the Christmas season. But, on the positive side, Craig Carson was wearing a very nice Santa hat.
“How goes the calculations, Kivioq?” Craig asked his AI. The computer paused, taking an unusually long time to answer.
“It’s uncertain, Craig.” The AI said. “We’re coordinating four of the most advanced AIs in the world, trying to find someone scattered across the dimensions. This has never been attempted before, not on this scale.”
“We’ll find her. I promise,” Craig said. “The team didn’t let me drift apart when I was fractured in storm particles,” he said, referring to a past incident. “I’m paying that debt forward.“
“This is only many orders of magnitude more complex….” Kivioq said. More complicated than weather, ha. Craig almost laughed. The living storm within him felt the weather's nigh infinite complexity, its infinite variations. And when he listened hard, strained his senses, the formation of the storms was an endless sonata. If anything was more complex than that, Craig could not imagine it. “Wait, I’m getting a response to one of my test signals.” Kivioq said.
“Patch it through.” Craig said.
“I don’t think that’s wise.” Kivioq said.
“Your caution is noted,” Thundrax said. “Now patch it through.”
“It is NOT the same frequency Tess was using.”
“She may have had to switch channels. We have to explore every possibility…”
And then the link connected itself. A sound like a medieval chorus, a thousand monks raising their voices in song, filled the air. The words were French, but Craig barely recognized it. Archaic, medieval French.
“Thundrax, your thunder is sought.” A woman’s voice said.
Craig halted. He knew that voice. It had summoned him once before, over twenty years ago, when Craig accompanied the Guard into another dimension. His past, the most inconvenient traveler, had come again. It was half-ghost, half-matriarch. She was known as the Forgotten Sister, Her Lady of Blasphemies, Keeper of the Silver Chamber. The Lady of a Billion Prophecies, the Harvest Queen. She was once a high priestess of Cybele in the dimension of Laurentia, where an altered Quebec and its holy church ruled the world, immeasurably powerful and terrible.
Craig had excellent reason to fear the open door. Connie entered the chamber and went mad. Justiciar entered and suffered a nervous breakdown, crippling himself by jettisoning his artificial arm and leg. Ravenspeaker had collapsed at the door in a heap, weeping uncontrollably, and refused to enter. What could do that to a god? And Craig was blinded by the storm, and had to take a step back. He had heard someone’s voice, an echo drifting, and he held back and refused to enter.
But Craig was older now, and harder. He had endured Hell’s unconsummated suicide. What did he have to fear? Maybe he might even find a way to restore Augury, long thought forever lost. He knew the door was open to him. All he had to do was join the chorus.
“Craig, no!” Kivioq shouted as Craig started to sing. His voice rose to an impossible pitch, a soprano that was well beyond his baritone range. And he felt himself enter the chamber at last.
“Bienvenue à la vérité. Bienvenue à votre plus grande douleur. Si vous persistez, vous verrez ce qui se trouve au-delà de l'imagination.” The sister said. “Qu'est-ce qui vous condamne, ne me blâmez pas.”
“D’accord,” Craig replied. “You’re not accepting the blame for what transpires here. You’re only the door.” Craig smiled, looking up at the sister, aged and withered, bearing a cornucopia and an iron crown. “Time for some mystical shit theater, I guess.” Craig said. “Bring it on.”
“Craig?” a man’s voice said, filled the chamber, originating from some place beyond, and the hero stopped in his tracks. He turned ashen, and felt weak in the knees, and had to make an effort to avoid falling.
“That’s not Craig. That’s just a blond superhero.”
“Look closer, mortal,” another voice said, a harmony that broke through the enchantment of Craig's forms. “Look at him through my eyes.”
“Holy shit, Neviel.” William Carson said. “That is Craig! Craig, my boy, I love you! You big, beautiful Carson. I’m so proud of you!“
Craig gaped in horror. His dad, as far as he knew, was dead. He had abandoned Craig’s family when he was 5.
“I need you, Craig! I’m in Hell!” William Carson shouted. “I’m trapped!”
Good, a part of Craig wanted to say.
“Help me! You have to find a way down here and get me out. The demons aren’t watching me since the fall of Zorasto. We can escape!”
There was something in his voice. Craig almost wavered. Almost. Then he closed his eyes and backed away. How would the real William Carson know about Zorasto? This was just a lure, to get him to return to that horrible place, perhaps, going of his few will, trapping him forever. What? To be Belial’s prize? Again? To be tortured by Black Paladin? And what would be the price of his release this time? How many innocent souls would be sacrificed for his release?
He remembered how his mother died. Alone and abandoned. He remembered Christmases under an empty tree with Jack, and taste of Chinese noodles in his mouth instead of turkey for Christmas dinner. He remembered how his mother died, a cancer-riddled emaciated skeleton, courage and despair shining in her eyes, backed away, and shut the door.
“La porte est toujours ouverte à vous.” The sister said.
“I sure as hell won’t be using it again,” Craig said, inadvertently condemning his father to Hell’s eternal embrace, at least until Neviel’s legions come. He retreated through the portal to the Barlowe. He had a teammate to find.