Chapter 21: Becoming

"When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves." ~Viktor E. Frankl~


“Gwen? Your plan sucks.”

“You’re just mad because we’re surrounded by undead chimpanzees with ray guns.”

Vivian didn’t bother to respond, but neither was she bothering to hide her irritation. I’d figured there was a good chance of this, but revealing my insights to her hadn’t been at the top of my List of Really Good Ideas today. It had been crowded out by “Walk straight into the lair of Frankenstein that has probably been taken over by Moriarty,” and then rather quickly by, “Put your hands up.”

“Tell me again why I’m not burning these things to a cinder?” Vivian asked, interlacing her fingers behind her skull as the eerie welcoming committee jabbed their Flash Gordon pistols and pantomimed us keeping our hands on our heads and not making any sudden moves.

“Because you have to wave your hands around. I’ve seen you. Frankenstein doesn’t build anything that sets to ‘stun’. That’s a whole different story.”

Vivian grimaced as she was prodded into a walk. “I could just have, I don’t know, caused a minor earthquake or something. Bring the house down on them all.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, yeah, because the villain never gets away when they can’t find a body. Quit complaining. He hasn’t threatened to hamstring you and rape you to death.”

“Yet,” her eyes flashed. “I remember something about ‘appetizers’.”

Silence was our best company for the rest of the trip into the earth. Our simian escorts moved swiftly, with cold purpose. The recessed lights that lined Vic’s metallic corridors were dim, and the occasional clang of a door swinging shut or creak of a chain coming from ahead only heightened the aura of depravity that clung to this place. Our shadows crept across the ceiling, flitting nervously toward what darkness they could find.

We passed by the place where Vic had met us and through a nondescript door that slid open and shut with a pneumatic hiss. We found ourselves in an antechamber of some sort, emblazoned with signs warning of biohazards, radiation, and electrical dangers beyond. Yellow HAZMAT suits were stored here, but the chimpanzees passed them by. Whatever was through here, Moriarty didn’t think it would kill us fast enough to deprive him of his pleasure.

The one other exit to this room looked like it belonged on the outside of a bomb shelter. Its steel bulk had a wheel that one of the chimps had to spin for a good while before the grinding of bolts moaning within came to a halt. It took two of them to open it, and I was sure that the three-foot creatures were each a good deal stronger than I was. Maybe Vivian and I could do it together, but I wasn’t so sure. We wouldn’t be coming back this way with any speed… assuming we came back at all.

<<Hello, my dear.>> The Arabic words slid in my mother’s voice between the lips of the thing wearing her body. The smile on those lips was pure Moriarty.

She stepped through the blast door with predatory ease. She was still wearing her pajamas from the other night, but her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, and she had a lab coat on. The name “Vic” had been crossed off by something now dry and brown, and a stylized “M” had been written above it in the same substance.

“He didn’t keep you sedated, did he?” I asked in English. I shook my head. “I told him.”

“Men never listen,” she agreed. “I tried to tell your father that the security detail that showed up the other day looked suspicious. Just look what happened to him.”

Through an effort of will, I prevented my memory from doing exactly that.

“So what now?” I asked instead. “You looking to return the favor I paid you last time we met?”

Moriarty laughed, and I cringed. It was strangely like my mother’s laugh. She began to pace around, studying me.

“The last time we met, you saved my life,” she said. “I have rather something else in mind. Come, I want to show you something. But first…”

She held out a hand, a chimpanzee put a pistol into it, and my mother shot Vivian in the chest.

The rest of them wrapped strong hands around my arms and legs as I surged forward. Vivian dropped to her knees, eyes wide, and clawed at a smoking wound. She tried to speak, but all that came out was a high-pitched whine. She coughed smoke and toppled forward.

I struggled against my captors, but their fingers may as well have been carved out of the door ahead of us.

“You sick.... Why?” I asked.

“Clearing the board,” she shrugged. “Oh, Gwen, I see you so plainly now. I don’t know why Lance couldn’t, before. It’s written all over you. You thought I was going to use her to force you to make a hard choice, and then you were going to surprise me with your willingness to let her die. You thought surprise would give you the edge that it would take to bring me down.” Moriarty’s eyes seemed to burn. “Are you surprised? Tonight, I win. Vivian is - forgive me, was - too sly to attempt to manipulate. Her boyfriend will prove more compliant. As will you. Walk.”

The dead things let me go, and I snatched my hands free. “You’re thinking about rushing me,” she crooned. “I am actively trying not to murder you, my dear, but you are making it difficult. You’re close… so close. Don’t waste yourself. You wouldn’t make it to my throat. Walk.

I looked at Vivian lying there… inert. Moriarty wasn’t supposed to play this way. He loved manipulating you with pawns: he was supposed to use exactly the same tactic that he’d called me on moments ago. He would wait for some dramatically appropriate moment, then make me choose between Vivian’s life and something uglier.

But this Moriarty… he wasn’t a “he”. And she wasn’t playing by our rules.

I stepped through the blast door. Moriarty came through behind me. From the other side, it creaked shut, and the bolts slid home. It was just the two of us.

The air in here was musty, and full of rank smells. Chemical odors mingled with ozone and rotting flesh. The decor was vintage “repurposed bomb shelter” with a touch of “mad genius”. The room was... well, it was probably better described as a cavern, with metal catwalks running everywhere that had nothing but drab green-painted chains to tell you not to topple over the edge into the darkness beneath. The floor was lost in the gloom below. It couldn’t go that far down, I reasoned, until I saw electricity arc somewhere that must have been a hundred feet below us.

Maybe it could.

“Stay on the path,” Moriarty cautioned.

“Your concern for my safety is touching. So maternal, you almost had me fooled.”

She gestured me forward, but I noticed that she kept a good five paces back from me as we walked. I laughed. “What, nervous about you and me and a long fall?”

“You still think you’re going to kill me,” she answered. “I don’t want you to make any foolish mistakes. Not yet.”

She expected me to try. Good. I wasn’t going to play by our rules, either. It was time to write a new ending to our story.

The gantries above and below us creaked slightly on old chains as we went. Lighting came sparsely from bulbs wrapped in 1950s Army wire frames. She directed me down this stairwell and across that walkway, all suspended over a pit that may have gone all the way down to hell. Warm drafts sometimes puffed sulfurously up at us, completing the metaphor. Here we were in the Underworld, a stiff breeze away from death.

After doubling us back along our path three times, she was satisfied. “You aren’t lost,” she stated. “Good. You’ve at least got enough of Holmes in you to make this somewhat satisfying.”

With a casual pivot, she threw the ray gun into the darkness. Empty-handed, she turned back to face me.

“I needed to give you some cooling off time. I know my daughter: you get angry before you get scared. Also, I needed to give my men with upsettingly large guns upstairs time to find your friends who are lurking about in the bushes: did you honestly think I'd believe they hadn't joined you? This whole facility has full spectrum surveillance. We spotted you the moment you arrived.”

I had hoped. Hope doesn't fare well against Moriarty.

Moriarty didn't give me time to finish thinking. "Before you try to finish this: would you like to see your father?”

My breath caught for a second. “What’s to prevent me killing you and then finding him?” I stammered, failing to sound confident.

She lifted up her pajama top. Around her torso there was a simple heart rate monitor. “Five pounds of plastic explosive that I surgically implanted into his body,” she replied. “If they don't hear my heartbeat, they explode. If you managed it, there wouldn’t be much left to find.”

I gritted my teeth. “So even if we duel to the death and I win, I lose.”

“You didn’t expect me to play fair.”

I shook my head. “I’m still going to beat you. I’ve already done it. You just don’t know it yet.”

She laughed, and took a bow. “Then I’ll die happy, my dear, knowing what I took from you. And I’ll return reborn, to take even more. Because I remember you. Oh, how I remember you. This way.”

She walked past me, practically brushing me as she went. It was a dare. All I had to do was shove…

I let her pass, and then followed. She took a straight path now, up two levels of rickety stairs over nothing, and stopped outside a door cut into the rock. It was the same 50s decor of olive green-painted steel as everything else down here, and cracked slightly ajar.

“Say hello to daddy,” invited my mother’s lips.

I pressed my way inside. The door seemed to press back for a moment, but then gave way beneath my hands.

Prepare yourself, cautioned the detective inside me.

The lights were out inside the room. I could just barely see the table with the human form on it, still covered entirely by a sheet. A massive electrical cable snaked up under the sheet. Beyond it… another table. This one with restraints.

For a moment, I was back in the other room, strapped to a table, a hood over my face, drowning. For that moment, I was helpless, disoriented. For the second time in as many days, I felt the bite of a needle in my neck.

Then I felt nothing.

I awakened with a start. Moriarty was standing over me, lab coat buttoned up. She had a surgical mask hanging around her neck, and a bone saw in her hand.

I was strapped to the table I had seen. My wrists and ankles were secure, and bands around my hips and chest held me tightly down. To my right, my father’s body still lay covered in a white sheet. To my left… the smaller table of instruments there promised pain.

“You’re an anomaly, Gwen,” Moriarty began. “You can do things that no Persona can do. You break the rules. I’m intrigued. While you slept, I put you into my little machine. I mapped your brain, every little nook and cranny. I can copy you. I can replicate you, just like I can replicate myself. Would you like to be immortal?”

She didn’t make it sound like a gift. “You are free, now, just as I am. Free of the limits of the flesh. You can shed these meaty bonds and find another. At my direction, of course,” she amended. “All this means that your body is no longer a restriction on my ability to study you. I can put you into a new one, when this one is spent.”

She turned on the saw. It was quieter than I expected, but I had the feeling that it was going to get much louder soon.

Her eyes lit up. “Victor had such intriguing notions on the physical structure of the brain. I’ve been over and over them and I really think he was onto something. And now I have such an interesting brain to study… It will be so much more informative when you aren’t sedated.”

“You’re going to kill me, take a few notes, and then reboot and repeat?”

Her smile vanished beneath the surgical mask as she pulled it over her face. “Ever the quick study, my dear. And you’ll never guess who my men found poking around upstairs: surprise, surprise, you weren't as alone as you pretended to be. Your Mr. Doyle couldn’t leave you alone, it seems. I already took your girl Friday. I’ll download you into his body next. Dissecting you in the body of a Sherlock Holmes impostor will be rewarding on so many levels. Now, please try to tell me how this makes you feel. Be as specific as possible: it might save you a few lives.” She advanced on me.

“Couple of problems with your plan, mate,” I began. Something popped in my wrists, and I slid a hand out and caught the bone saw inches from my face. Some of Jack can slip out of bonds even when it means dislocating bones and then having to find them again. I tugged, and my ankles did a painful thing, and they were free as well.

“Firstly, I don’t plan on dying today. You’re just lucky that ain’t a scalpel, savvy?” I twisted my wrist down and the bone saw chewed its way through the straps across my chest and pelvis as Moriarty struggled helplessly against my grip. Hers was nothing against the strength that had strung the bow of Apollo; she let go of the bone saw and staggered back.

“Second, I didn't just hope that your men would find my friends: I planned on it. That’s not Doyle your men found up there.” A scream echoed down the hall, and a panicked man with a donkey’s head raced past the open doorway, his weapon dropping from nerveless fingers. “Do you believe in fairies? You really should. You should believe that they’re not to be crossed.”

“Third, you shouldn’t ever think that you can tell what I’m thinking. I’ll lie to ya.” I sat up and swung my legs down off the table, tossing the bone saw to the ground behind me.

I was ready to go on, but she interrupted me. “You know, gloating speeches are more my metier than yours.” She spun and raced for a computer terminal near the wall. Before I could stop her, she had reached it and smashed her finger triumphantly downward. Lights started glowing from beneath the sheet on the table next to mine.

“I told you,” Moriarty hissed. “I’m immortal.”

I frowned, and shrugged absently. “I was trying to tell you: fourth, the reason that you haven’t seen the real Doyle here is that he’s been busy getting Watson into your computer systems. He still had a copy on his servers, after all, and once we explained the plan, Watson was all about Doyle working his own special magic. He’s a wizard with computers.

"You were trying to upload yourself into my father’s body, but all you just did was give a body to the father of the woman you just killed. And he knows it.”

Moriarty cocked her head. It was a motion that had always been a signature move of my mother's. "Oh, Gwen…” she whispered. She looked... proud.

Oh my god.

The lights dimmed, and a smell of ozone and burning meat came from under the blanket. “Viviaaaaan!” howled a voice that was my father’s, but not my father’s. The figure sat up, tearing the sheet away from its face. My father’s features were sallow; the expression on his face, strange. It was one of loss and rage combined.

He sprang from the table at Moriarty, who slithered out of the room, slamming the door closed behind her. There was a click of a lock from the outside. “Everything… for her…” Watson - Bill Adler, the old Merlin, Vivian’s father - crashed a fist into the metal, and it bent under his knuckles.

He sniffed the air and turned to me, eyes glowing. “You…” he heaved. “You brought her here to die.”

Oops.

He was fast, far faster than I’d anticipated, and with a single leap he threw himself forward, caught me by the throat, and slammed us down onto the floor. His fingers closed around my windpipe and squeezed. I dug my hands in and fought him, but his strength was unbelievable. I may have possessed the strength of Odysseus, but if I let go to try to throw a strike, he'd crush my throat in an instant.

“This body… there’s no biofeedback. Nothing to stop me from bringing every ounce of strength to bear. When you’re struck by electricity and your legs throw you across the room… I can do that with every movement.” Watson’s frantic eyes bored into mine. “You killed her as surely as your witch of a mother did. You and Doyle, with his goddamn virus that wiped out the copy I’d made of her soul. Everything, everything I did, it was for my baby girl. To let her live free! Now she’s dead, dead and gone forever. Soon you’ll join her.”

He knows Moriarty is your mother. He has your father’s memories.

Thanks, Sherlock; very helpful.

I scrabbled for leverage, but Watson bore his weight down on top of me. The face of the man who’d once ruffled my hair and said that I was the best thing he’d ever done now spoke my death.

“Her mother was wrong: I could never ignore that beautiful little girl. I had to save her. Vivian… do you know what becomes of her? Misery. Solitude. Her fate isn’t her own; it’s for others to decide. She stole my power away completely on the day she was born, because after that, it was all bent on giving her a life worth living… not the joke that her idiot mother inflicted upon her.”

My vision was starting to fade. Lungs on fire. Toes numb. Hands aching as they fought against his. Through it all, my dad’s voice spoke strange words.

“I tried to fix her. To undo the ‘Vivian’. Irene Adler, she gets to make her own choices. But it wouldn’t take. I couldn’t get her to stay free. I imprinted Irene over and over again, but Vivian always came back. So I did the only other thing possible: I made sure she would become the Vivian who becomes the Lady of the Lake. She would be powerful. She would have the power of the Merlin. No one could tell her what to do. Her fate would be hers to decide.”

Even his voice was fading. My vision shrank to a pinprick, just my father’s face: twisted, cruel. This is what becomes of a parent who gives everything to his child. Nothing else matters. No one else matters. Who could count even an ounce, against your own flesh and blood?

“No.” The voice relaxed, and suddenly the hands let me go. I gasped and gulped air in, kicking myself away and out from under him.

“No,” my father repeated. “You… will… not… hurt… my… Gwen!”

Daddy?

He hung there on his knees for a moment, face twisting back and forth as two fathers fought for control. One wanted to save his daughter; the other to avenge her.

Oh my god, he was in there. I hadn't thought... I hadn't let myself think that he'd still be alive after-

A click. The door tore open, and Achilles came hurtling through it. His chest bore a black wound from a ray gun, but it wasn't slowing him down any. That was why I'd had Vivian call him in: I'd known I would need backup, and I was sure that, if Moriarty were only trying to kill Vivian, he could take it. It had been a gamble, but I was pretty sure that Moriarty wasn't going to look too hard with me so close. She'd be focused on the bait: me.

Vulnerability: distraction.

Snarling, Achilles barreled into the man on the floor and sent them both tumbling. Survival reflexes took over and both were on their feet in a heartbeat, but Achilles was a born warrior. He sprang forward, hands seeking my father’s throat.

Watson threw his hands up just in time, catching Achilles' outstretched wrists in midair. With a lightning pivot, he twisted himself under the warrior's leap and used his reanimated strength to hurl Achilles into the wall with crushing force. I saw my father's legs tense, making ready to race after and press the attack. Achilles was still peeling himself off of the wall: if Watson got him off of his feet, he could pitch him straight out the door, over the gantries, and into darkness.

“Stop! Dad, stop!” Vivian’s voice rang from the doorway.

The man froze at the sound of his daughter's voice. Watson was the bomb that we would drop on Moriarty, but there was no way that I was going to trust that after everything he'd done, he would go gently into that good night. Vivian was the backup plan if we'd needed to put the genie back into the bottle. She would distract him long enough for me to take him the hell out. I hadn't anticipated super powers. I should have: Frankenstein's monster was no joke, after all. Still, between me and Achilles, we could take him down.

But... my father was in there, too.

If she got through to her father, what would happen? Two souls were battling for control of one body. I didn't think they'd play nicely together: whoever won the battle would occupy it permanently. If it were my dad...

"Daddy," I whispered. "Daddy, are you in there?"

Vivian knew in an instant what I was doing. But she didn't stop.

"Dad, you can't do this. This isn't what I want. You wanted me to be able to make my own choices, not to be trapped by my fate. But Dad, you took away my choices in order to do it. You tried to make me who you wanted me to be. Where were my choices?"

It was her father or mine. We both had things to say.

"Daddy," I begged, "please come back. I'm not ready to lose you. I made a terrible mistake: I should have picked you. I'm so sorry, Daddy."

Vivian spat, "I hate you."

My eyes were wet. "I love you."

The man in the middle trembled. He dropped his hands, and Achilles crouched, waiting. Vivian reached out and grabbed one hand. I took his other.

"Let me go, Dad," she hissed. "Just let me be myself. That has to be enough."

"Don't go," I pleaded. "I miss you. You're my happy thought."

He shuddered. "I... I'm so sorry," he managed. "I love you."

He cocked his head suddenly. “Did you hear-?”

Vivian looked puzzled, but I knew. It had been almost nothing, just a little “tink" sound, like a plastic heart rate monitor bouncing off of a metal gantry far, far below.

His eyes met mine. He saw the realization on my face, that I knew Moriarty had tossed the heart rate monitor into the pit. In a second, it would be out of range of whatever receiver in his chest was staving off the explosion inside him. No signal... boom.

With the same strength that he’d used to tackle me just moments before, he threw himself out of the room, and into empty space. I hurled myself at Vivian, bearing her away from the door as the explosion blew through it. The pressure wave threw us into the wall before we even had a chance to hit the ground.

Everything was mimsy for a long moment. Woozles paraded galumpishly orthogonal to the brain pudding that sloshed between my ears. As my senses began to untangle and the roaring in my ears ceased to be quite so orange, I silently apologized to Arthur’s men for the flashbang back at the Black Velvet Lounge.

“Viv…?” I asked, hand to my temple.

Achilles was already helping her to her feet. She had a hollow look in her eyes. "He's... he's gone? We virused him out of existence, except for what was still on Doyle's servers. We downloaded that to this body... and that's gone. My father is dead."

I nodded.

"I'm free." She swallowed. "So why don't I feel free? Why is part of me waiting for him to tell me what to do next?"

I turned away from her and looked out into the void. There was no trace of my father's body out there. He was gone.

Dead. And gone.

"Gwen?" Vivian's voice brushed away the memory of tender fingers tousling my hair. "You were talking to him... like your father could still hear you."

"Don't make me say it, Vivian. You knew very well what was going on."

She swallowed. She opened her mouth, closed it. Her eyes were wet.

"He tore me open... over and over. I had to... I had to end it. Him. I had to make sure."

I looked away.

"Who was that woman I saw running out of here while I was catching up to you?"

"That was my mother." I shuddered. "Moriarty."

"I've seen her before. It was the day that... the day I killed my father the first time. The day that using the machine went so wrong. She was getting into a car outside of our house when I was getting home." Vivian clenched her jaw. "She had a black suitcase, the same kind that my father used to transport his equipment. One of them was missing, I discovered later. I remembered that face, because I was sure she'd stolen it from us. I haven't seen her in years."

I knew what Vivian was saying. I had become certain of it just before Moriarty fled from us.

"That woman sabotaged your equipment... leading to your father's death when you used it on him."

"Your mother, Gwen. Years ago. It was her. It's always been her. She did this to us."

That's it, Vivian. Deflect. Blame someone else.

I took a step toward the door, staggered a little, and caught myself on the table. The device that Moriarty had unintentionally used to imprint Vivian’s father onto mine was still lying there, discarded after he’d risen up from the dead. I touched it gingerly.

“We’ve got everything we need right here,” she said. “We can end this bitch right now, just like you planned. Get that shit on your head: she's not going to kill another goddamn person.”

No,” I rasped. I saw the look in my father’s eyes as he threw himself away from us. The look on his face as he leaped from the bed and the noose tightened on his neck. The look on his face as he’d ruffled my hair. That same look all the times and all the ways that he'd told me that he loved me.

“New plan. I’m going to find Moriarty and I’m going to kill her.”

She opened her mouth, then pressed it into a hard line, and looked away. I started to stalk out of the room, but she shook her head again.

“No, Gwen, wait. I just killed my father, or as good as. I... I don't love that. He did such... he... I can't think about him and not want to cry. But I still... he was my dad, you know?" She choked back a sob, and for maybe the first time, I was sure that I was seeing Vivian. The real girl, under all the hard candy.

She wiped her eyes, gathered herself. "Don't put that on yourself. I don't want that for you. You said you don't care about violence: you care about winning. So win. I sure as hell didn't. You don't have to do this by the book. That's the whole point, right? To change the story?”

I paused in the doorway.

"We can get Moriarty out of her," Vivian insisted. ”Make her normal. Just your mom. Let's change her story."

Doyle’s voice crackled through the speaker of the computer that had been hooked up to Moriarty's device. “It sounds like I’m late to the party, but listen, Gwen: Vivian’s right. You don't want to do this. But I think I also know you well enough to know that you are pigheaded and we aren't going to convince you of a damn thing. But we're your friends, so give us something. Give us two minutes. We can rig up a deadman switch from stuff in this room. It will be just like the one Moriarty used with the explosives: let go of the switch and you fire the device. Moriarty vanishes. Of course, maybe you do, too, which is why for the record I still think this plan is insane. But I’ve got your back. Because I trust you. Trust me.”

The room was silent, so Achilles shrugged and joined in. "I think you should rip her heart out with your fist. Your friends are wrong. You all think you are so clever. The problem with the clever ones is that you always think terrible plans will work better because they're your plans."

He crossed his arms. "There's only one way this story ends: death."

I shuddered. Here my friends were, trying to save my soul, but Achilles was right. My mother... there was too much blood on her hands. Seas of it. She didn't get to walk out of here.

But what was two minutes? Moriarty wasn't going anywhere. I could give that to my friends, give them some hope, and then toss the damn contraption into the abyss with my father after I got around the corner. I could give them that, and still give Moriarty what was coming to her.

“Okay,” I breathed. “Do it.”

Doyle was as good as his word. He walked Vivian through the steps to set up Moriarty’s device with the deadman switch, which she wired to a numeric keypad that she scrounged from the computer. Vivian expertly loaded the device up and put it on my head. It was bulky and huge and it made my neck strain just thinking about walking with it, but it cinched snugly into place. There was an uninterruptible power supply they pilfered from the computer that Doyle said would last for an hour.

In just over two minutes, I looked like I was about to enter a very elaborate virtual reality simulation, but I was ready to go face her.

“Let go of the switch, and this thing kicks on. I’m… I’m not actually sure what to root for,” Vivian frowned. She looked me in the eye. The mask was nowhere to be seen, just exhaustion and worry and pain. With everything that we'd done to one another, some intentionally and mostly not, I still wished that I wasn't about to make her pain worse.

“Root around for some plastic explosive," I said, instead of farewell. "There’s bound to be more. If I’m not back in an hour, blow this place to hell. And if I am back and you think for even a split second that this went bad, you do the same thing."

I swallowed. "Maybe... maybe I should just say goodbye right now.”

“Don’t you dare.” Her voice was sharp, and her eyes were wet. “Don’t you fucking dare. I see you as you are, now. Back in the club, you told me that you would need that. You don't think I do, you think you've got your Tom Sawyer and that you're so clever and that you know better and are just going to do what you know you've got to... but I see you. You are coming back, and you are coming back with your soul intact. I'm only letting you out that door with that stupid fucking thing on your head so that you can surprise yourself. So go kick her in the vag until she grounds you like forever, and then come back. We’ll see you soon.”

My eyes were wet. Doyle’s voice came through the speaker. “Safe travels, Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace, wherever you go from here. Oh, and Robin says that she agrees with Vivian for once. About the [ahem] kicking.”

Abruptly, I pushed through the door. My eyes stung and if I stayed a moment longer, I just didn't know. So I went. Because that's what you do, when you're... when you have to. You go on.

The explosion had damaged the lights, and the ones that still worked were flickering sporadically, bathing the gantries in stroboscopic gloom. Slowly, I forced myself to breathe normally as I walked deeper into Vic's lair, in search of my death.

I heard a noise ahead of me, and froze. Cresting the stairs at the end of this catwalk, Puck stopped and stood in my path. He wasn’t the Elizabethan fairy with gossamer wings now. He was small and covered in a brown fur that seemed to betray flames flickering beneath it as he moved. His face was human, but the mouth… it was like a shark. His eyes were completely black. His fingers seemed tipped with razor blades.

“Never fear,” he hissed, and I felt spiders scurry up my spine. “They don’t have it in them to do what you ask. But I do. You won’t see me coming. Not this time.”

I shivered. “I believe you.”

“You look ridiculous.” He waved a hand, and suddenly weight of the rig strapped to my head vanished. For some reason, I hadn't pitched it yet, and I sighed in relief. “It's not gone, just changed into something that will let you face death not looking like you belong in an eighties music video. If you need it, bite hard. Second molar on the bottom left.”

I ran my tongue over the spot he'd just described. The tooth felt strange. It gave ever so slightly under my tentative squeeze.

“The device is now a poison tooth?” I laughed. “How fitting. Thanks, Puck. But I won't need it. Achilles was right about how this story ends.”

His black lips struggled to cover the teeth behind them. It wasn't a smile, it wasn't a grimace; it was as if snakes were wriggling over ivory gravestones. “Gwen, Gwen... you're forgetting something. If we wanted her dead, I can do that. With great pleasure, I might add. You have to end her. That's what this has all been leading up to. You kill her, and your damned game just continues with her in a new body. Maybe it takes another decade, but then Moriarty returns to finish what he begun in this life. The dying starts all over again. You can stop her today, for good and forever. If all you do today is kill her, then every death from here on out is yours. Moriarty will murder again, and you will have allowed it because you killed her because you were sad."

He shook his goblin head. "You are better than that, Gwen. Have faith: you can change this story. You do your part. If you fail… I’m a little too eager to do mine."

Lights flickered, and a glow emanated from within his eyes. "But I am a wiser Puck than that. It is not a promise I long to keep.”

“Don’t hesitate,” I cautioned. “I won’t.”

He shivered. "I believe you."

He shook his head sadly. He reached out and gently smoothed out the black undershirt I’d been wearing beneath the Black Knight’s armor. The air around me shimmered, and I felt a familiar weight on my shoulders. A black coat rustled slightly about me.

This was my skin. The hell with the silly hat and the pipe: this was who I was.

I took a deep breath. Sherlock flexed his fingers beneath my own.

Puck waved away my attempt to thank him again. “If you're to do your part, you should at least look it. The coat looks better on you, anyway. Now go. You won’t see me again. For better or for worse.”

I turned. The black trenchcoat swirled around me. Over my shoulder, I called back to him. “You’re not so bad, Robin Goodfellow.”

His body began to disappear, until only the mouth was left hanging in the air. “Yes I am,” it said. “Don’t find out how.”

Then he was gone, and I was alone on the gantry.

I looked around. Moriarty’s tracks seemed to outline themselves across my vision: a scuff in the dust, a chain hand rail swinging, a metal post twisted a half-degree counterclockwise as she leaned for a second… I broke into a loping trot, senses stretching out into the dark. After a minute of tracing her steps, I came across the body of the man who had been wearing the donkey’s head as he ran past the door in the room where we’d last faced off. His head was back to normal, but at the wrong angle to his body: the neck was neatly broken, and his sidearm was missing. She wasn’t far.

She wasn’t trying to hide. The path she left was visible only to my eyes, but she knew it was there as surely as I knew how to read it. In less than five minutes, I found myself facing a door. This place seemed to stretch on forever, with doors marked with cryptic names or numbers.

“Richenbacher,” the door read. I ran my fingers over the faded lettering. The print was as old as this place was. A previous resident, perhaps.

This is the place. Naturally.

I pushed the door open, and stepped through it.