The party went on, an outpouring of raucous abandonment after nearly two years spent trying to catch the Erstwhile. Longstanding feuds were forgotten over punch bowls, and he’d seen more than one couple leave for more personal festivities. He himself was leaving. He’d tried to adopt the lighthearted mood while maintaining his image. Tonight he had traded in his dark cloak for a trim suit, his belt of tricks for a tie, though he didn’t bother to adjust his personal color scheme of black and only ever black for the evening. He’d known his compatriots’ propensity for flashy “uniforms,” and had expected some of tonight’s wardrobe. Yet even while out of their capes and tights, their flash remained, each one bidding to be the most extravagant, the most noticed. It was unfortunate, in a way, being the only one in sensible looking attire he’d become the most outrageous. He caught a glimpse of himself reflecting off of the giant, dark window opening over the immaculate garden maze as he made to exit. He liked the look of a suit, and as he walked away began considering making it his permanent costume.
None paid attention to the slight glimmer, the haze building around him, as he stepped between the hedges. In another moment, he was invisible. Why? Who knew? The prevailing story was angel blood, the wild oats of the sons of heaven sprouting on the earth. The myths of heroes long past spoke of such things, of demigods—he’d taken an interest in some of these as a young man. Perseus had the Helm of Hades to make the young hero invisible, and so he’d named himself Plutoson. Unfortunately, the newspapers, if they mentioned him, just shortened it to Pluto, and the name stuck. Pluto wound his way through the maze, remembering the Cretan Labyrinth and the monster which dwelt there.
“I’m here,” he whispered to no one in particular. The silence answered back with the chill of night air against his face. He let the glimmer slide, fading into view. Checking his watch, he counted the second hand’s ticks. One, two, three: With a sound like a firecracker, Cronos appeared at precisely midnight.
“I’ll make it quick,” the man said from the quaint wooden bench he’d materialized upon. “You’re right. It nearly killed me, but I got a hundred years ahead of now. It will happen just the way you said.”
“And if I do it?” Pluto asked.
“Can’t say,” the time traveler shrugged, “You haven’t decided to do it yet.” At that he disappeared, either backward or forward into whatever time he’d come from, generating a sound somehow the reverse of a firecracker’s pop.
He sat upon the bench, considering this prophecy. There’d be no disbanding. The heroes were organized now, organized to demolish that abominable cult, the Erstwhile. He barely noticed as his fists clenched, his knuckles turning white. He fought back the memories. With a tear, he whispered to her who wasn’t there, who would never be there again, “I’m sorry.” Absolute power, he thought, glancing up at the brilliant light shining from the Hero Center. Pulling out his cell, he sent the text.
Some would survive, he thought as the pillars of fire burst out of the center’s windows. Some had already left, but he had to stop them. It had to be done, he knew, once G. had started calling himself god, once the others had, once the people had started believing, worshiping. He’d already seen the horrors of one cult and their imagined sleeping god; what would a cult be with a living figurehead, one who veritably was a god? The fires and explosions wouldn’t kill G. he knew, but it would take at least a day for him to heal. Whatever bed G. chose to lie in, it would be his death bed.
With a sigh, he pulled the sock out of G.’s mouth. “Traitor,” G.’s head said from its box in the passenger seat. Shivers ran up and down Pluto’s spine. Reaching over, he buckled the box in.
Staring into the darkness of the parking garage, Pluto asked, “How exactly can you talk without lungs?” He checked the dashboard’s clock.
“What have you done?” G. accused, accenting each word in a cutting staccato.
“Lifted my hand against Fate.”
The engine quietly initiated, and Pluto began his spiraling descent into the darkness. From H-level to G, and from G to F and so on. Down he went, circling and circling. Angrily G. mumbled. Finally, the car turned and Pluto saw the glossy yellow-painted A of the ground level.
He pulled out onto the quiet hospital roadway, a glimmer of the sun passing through the dark silhouette of the thickly forested hills, the tall points of evergreens like spires in the rich, blue sky. He counted eight yellow speedbumps as he approached the main road. The tail end of his car rolled over the last obstacle, and he coasted toward the stop sign.
“You can’t kill me,” G. said as they came to a halt. Pluto signaled.
Rolling into the deserted road, the warning clicks of his turn-light stopped as the car oriented itself along this new path. The new day started as Pluto stole the would-be god away into his shadowy web.
The further the future, Cronos knew, the less stable. And yet there were those truths, those unavoidably solid moments yet to come, which he could visit. Through the binoculars he watched the beat up, nondescript car roll away from the hospital. The decision was made, it seemed. As his strength waned, he felt the bands of time pulling him back toward the present, the point of transition between possibilities and unchanging facts. The world around him began to reverse in a cataclysm of light and sound. As he fell back, he saw himself again in the garden with Pluto, and still he fell.
The Erstwhile priest sat there as if nothing had changed, and for him it hadn’t. To him, Cronos had been gone for less than a second, had glimmered slightly before reappearing with a bit of stubble upon his chin, the only evidence of his journey.
“Well?” the priest asked.
“Just like you said,” Cronos began, panting a little, “Once they think they’ve won, well, they start killing each other pretty quick.”
“Then it is time we sleep, and let the heroes kill themselves.”
“There’s just one thing,” Cronos interrupted, “The only way they will come to believe that they won.” The priest heard the demigod chuckle, and watched as a sneer spread at the corners of the time traveler’s lips. “They won’t stop fighting until they kill you.” Cronos abandoned all pretenses of hiding his true feelings, his smile broadening into a toothy grin. “You just had to sacrifice that girl, didn’t you?” the demigod’s laugh hit the priest like a sharp blast of cold air. “Pluto could be in this room even now, his knife an inch from your throat.” The priest’s eyes darted fervently, and utterly pointlessly, searching through the room for the vengeful ghost. “And you won’t see him,” Cronos continued, “until he’s standing over your bleeding body.”
“When?” the priest asked.
Turning his wrist over, Cronos glanced at his watch. Holding up a finger, he counted down the seconds, “Right . . . now.”