Chapter 1: Thoughts of a Minor Mending
Sister? Siiii-sterrrrr? Are you here? Where is here? It’s small…I don’t like it. They can’t hold me in here for long…might as well, take my time and think…think of where you might be, sister. Where would you have gone? You wouldn’t leave me in here would you? No, no….no, no, no you wouldn’t sister. It must be them! How dare they! Just as I was starting to like this world, they took it away from me. They took you away from me. Silly, silly magicians…they’ll see…they’ll all see.
“…and that is why you’ll give it to me.” Everette was standing in front of Quentin, hand outstretched, threatening magic that would destroy them all. Q couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that they couldn’t have just gotten to The Seam a few seconds earlier. And he couldn’t quite let himself believe Everett’s words that Eliot was ok: he would believe it only when he saw Eliot with his very own eyes.
But now, would Q ever get to see Eliot again?
Stop thinking like that – Q told himself, his eyes darted around the room looking for an escape. There had to be a way. The mirror to The Seam was shattered, yes, but that was just a simple minor mending. Q stopped that line of thought dead in its tracks – no, there was no telling how magic would react in the mirror world, even to such a tiny spell. Too risky.
Q racked his brain as Everett grew impatient in front of him, “Quentin, give it to me.”
Desperation and panic began to cloud his thinking. Was there any other option?
Then this small voice inside of Q’s brain, a voice that was all too familiar, reminded him of the part of Q that was just so terribly and completely exhausted. Didn’t he deserve some peace? Some rest? And he could save them all, with one minor mending. How poetic. How truly heroic.
But as he looked past Everett’s shoulder, Quentin saw Penny and Alice. Penny’s eyes were closed and his nose was bleeding – he was trying to get inside Everett’s mind but didn’t seem to be getting far.
And Alice…the look on Alice’s face was half pleading, half desperation – they had said they would do this together, and yet here he was, placed in the position of making a decision for the both of them. Seeing Penny and Alice still fighting gave him the strength he needed to what had to be done.
After all, what if Quentin gave him the bottle? Everette would absorb the monster’s power and become a god. He might kill them all. But he also might not, not if they played their cards right. And if there was one thing Q was good at, it was playing cards.
Besides, they had their own god anyway…well, goddess really. Penny had told them as he was painting his blood sigil on the mirror that Julia was on her way to goddesshood. Penny had incepted her subconscious and found the true answer there: Julia wanted to be a goddess more than anything. Quentin could tell Penny was hurt by this, but was determined to honor Julia’s wishes. The Binder was working his magic to start the process, with no real timeline for when it would be complete.
“Give me the bottle, Quentin.”
“Ok…ok…here…ok, it’s here – take it.” Q could barely breathe he was so nervous.
“Everyone will see you as a hero.” Everette replied smugly. The edges of his face and shoulders kept shimmering with the power surging through him.
Q highly doubted that. As he stepped closer to hand over the bottle, his hands shaking, he saw Alice grab something up off the table behind Everette. She was thinking of an escape plan too. Then he heard Penny in his head, “As soon as you give him the bottle, go to the right right. He’s still human and can't use magic here. We're gonna out run him the fuck outta here - you got it?"
Before Quentin could react however, he felt the bottle shake violently in his hand. Ambient magic, it seemed, had finally run out.
The bottle burst apart.
Shards of ceramic cut into his hand and arm and he heard both Everett and Alice scream as a glowing red mist filled the room and barreled straight towards his face and then…
Quentin was back in Filory.
He could feel it in the air. As he tried to make sense of the woods around him, he saw it. The cottage. His cottage. And the mosaic, still incomplete, tiles strewn all about. And then he saw Eliot.
Eliot was standing at the far edge of the mosaic, an orange scarf draped loosely around his neck, his pants smudged with tile dust. He was looking down at several tiles in his hands, apparently contemplating which one to put down.
“W-What? E-Eliot?” Q could barely get the words out through his mix of relief and disbelief. He was still very disoriented and unsure of where he was, “Is it really you?”
“Shhh, Q…”Eliot replied in a mock scolding tone without looking up from the tiles in his hands, “it’s hard to concentrate as it is. I can’t decide if it should be purple next to green, or blue – which combination says more ‘meaning of all life’ to you?”
“Oh my God, Eliot.” Quentin ran straight for Eliot, throwing his arms around him and pressing his face hard into his chest so tight that it was hard to breathe. And then the tears came – all of the tears. The one’s he’d been somehow keeping at bay for this whole fucking year while they were apart. As soon as he fell into Elliot, Q felt those familiar lanky arms gently wrap around him, cradling the back of his head. It was Eliot, not the Monster. It was really him.
“Woah, woah…hey Q, it’s ok. I love you too, but…”
Q’s heart skipped a bat and he pulled away slightly, wiping tears from his eyes, worried that what would come next would be another blow that he just couldn’t take again. Not now.
Then Eliot continued, “but you’re making it really hard for me to picture the beauty of all life when all I can see in front of me is your floppy brown hair.”
Eliot ran a couple of fingers through Q’s hair, brushing it gently out of his eyes.
“….hmmm, on second thought, your hair is pretty damn gorgeous, so maybe we should just make the whole mosaic brown.”
At that, Q looked up into Eliot’s face and saw those two gentle dark eyes gazing down at him. Oh God, how he had missed those eyes. And then they were kissing, and Q was so happy. So happy he couldn’t even remember a time when he’d been this happy before.
“Daddy! Elly! Are you done with today’s picture yet – I’m bored!”
After Eliot’s kiss, Q didn’t think his heart was capable of melting any further, but it did at the sound of that little voice.
“T-Teddy?” Q let go of Eliot and spun around to see the source of the voice – and sure enough, there was his son. His son. God, how could he forget? Little Teddy, only 10 or 11 years old, standing there hugging himself, waiting for Daddy and Elly to finish the day’s mosaic so they could play, or walk in the woods, or tell fairy tales, or practice magic spells, or sometimes, even regular card tricks.
Before Q knew what he was doing, he was running to his son, knocking over piles of tiles as he went – to which Eliot called after him in half-hearted protest. But all Quentin could think of was holding his son in his arms again. And once he had reached Teddy, he once again found himself unable to stop his tears.
“Daddy? You’re being weird…what's wrong?” Teddy’s little voice sounded slightly frightened now, and that somehow snapped Q out of it.
He stopped crying and pulled back to rest his hands on his son’s shoulders, taking a moment to quickly wipe his eyes with the back of one hand, “Nothing is wrong. In fact, it’s perfect. So, so perfect.
C’mon – why don’t you help us with this one before El makes it all one color.”
“Hey now, there’s nothing more beautiful than a good brown head of hair,” Elliot called back from behind them, with mock annoyance.
“But my hair’s yellow!” Teddy squealed in protest, “Can we make it all yellow this time?”
He jumped a bit with each word, getting more and more excited about being able to help.
Quentin and Eliot exchanged a look over little Teddy's head. There was so much they didn’t have to say to one another to know what they were thinking. Oh, how Quentin had missed those looks.
“Of course, little bud,” Elliot replied as he reached down, picked up a yellow tile and held it out to Teddy, who snatched it up gleefully and ran to place it down on the mosaic, “Can’t argue with that logic.”
After a few days, Quentin began to realize something strange was going on, but he was too happy to care. Almost.
Eliot had no memories of ever being possessed by the Monster when Quentin had finally tried to bring it up. And he found himself wondering why no one else every showed up at the cottage. Yes, he knew Arielle had died, but even after that, passerby had been frequent – peddlers, talking animals. But now the three of them seemed to have the entire woods to themselves.
But then Teddy needed something, or El invited him to come to bed, and he would push his doubts aside – determined to spend as much time with Eliot and Teddy as he could. For all he knew, this could be a time loop and while he seemed to be reliving those years in Fillory, it could very well be completely real for Eliot and Teddy.
But then one day, Teddy asked him to play in the woods and they’d gone further from the cottage than before, and Q suddenly noticed that the trees in the distance weren’t trees – they were just colorless outlines of trees: black and white vertical lines against a blank white sky beyond.
Quentin slowed to let Teddy go on ahead for a moment so he could hide his reaction. Teddy didn’t seem to notice. This had to be some sort of spell. But then he heard Eliot calling them both back to the cottage for dinner, and he just shrugged and decided that, for now, he didn’t care.
He was exactly where he needed to be.
Chapter 2: Grief
Penny POV from the Mirror World...
It took nearly all of Penny's strength to hold Alice back as the bottle exploded in Quentin's hand. He saw the shock and terror in Quentin's face before it was obscured by the red smoke billowing out of the bottle, and the ceramic shards flying everywhere. Penny squeezed his eyes shut reflexively, but he heard Alice's blood-curdling scream of, "No - Quentin!!" His gut instinct nearly made him travel them both to safety that instant, but at the last second he remembered where they were: magic was off the table in the mirror world. And shit, the magic holding the seal on that bottle just broke, so they had to get out of there, fast.
Opening his eyes again, Penny wasn't quite sure what he was seeing. Alice was still screaming for Q and trying to run forward, but Penny kept his grip firm. It only took him one glance at the chaos in front of them to realize that THIS was the moment that Penny 40 had given him instructions for. He knew what he had to do.
"Alice, Alice, we need to go NOW." Penny tried to reason with her as he dragged her backwards.
She fought him tooth and nail, still screaming horribly, "But Quentin is back there!! We can't leave him! QUENTIN! QUENTIN!!!!"
It was a good thing Penny already had plenty of practice ignoring voices, or else what he was about to do would have been even more impossibly difficult than it already was.
He had managed to drag Alice to the doorway of the room that had held the mirror. Or at one point it had. Now it was barely recognizable. After the bottle shattered, the momentum from the magic blast as the Monster escaped had sent showering sparks reverberating across the entire room, dissolving anything they touched.
While dragging Alice backwards with all his strength, Penny saw Everette's body turn to black dust, only giving the former Head Librarian time to turn his head toward the door with a look of pure shock and dismay before his face dissolved, too.
Of course, Penny knew Q was still somewhere in that room, where he had been when the bottle shattered: behind Everette and just in front of the mirror. But it was impossible to see Q at all among the shimmering golden sparks bouncing off every surface. They seemed to be dissolving the room, and the entire Mirror World, in their path.
Q had to be dead. Penny knew it. And he knew Alice knew it too. But he still had to pry her fingers off the doorframe to force them both back to the mirror through which they had come.
Once he finally managed to get them both through the mirror, Penny let Alice go. She collapsed onto the floor of the empty classroom like a rag doll. She was still screaming Quentin's name through sobs that shook her entire body.
Her wards were slipping. Penny flinched. He knew this pain. He had felt it before, but from someone else. It was what he had felt when Q's wards had fallen away while they were in Fillory, after Alice niffined out.
Fighting back tears of his own, Penny took a moment to strengthen his own wards for good measure before he knelt down beside Alice and just held her.
After a few minutes that seemed like hours, once Alice's screams had changed to silent sobs, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and traveled them both back to Brakebills' infirmary. Penny hoped beyond hope that somehow Julia was right. Becoming a goddess was what she HAD to do, because now was there a way she could somehow help Q? After all, what couldn't a goddess do? Last time she was a goddess, Julia had fixed the keys and brought back all of goddamned magic! Julia would bring Quentin back. And make sure the Monster was really destroyed. Julia could fix everything.
She had to.
Chapter 3: Starbucks
The Monster escapes...
TW: some gore and body horror
The Monster felt the confines around it start to weaken.
"Hmmmm, very interesting…."
He began to stretch, test out the limits so to speak. He felt his surroundings shake a bit. Promising.
He stretched again, flexing his power as much as he could, given the tiny confines of wherever he was being held.
They would pay for this. This was not pleasant.
And then, suddenly, the space around him exploded and he was free! Free! At last!
But, oh - he needed a new body now. And fast. He knew there were several in the new room he found himself in. Two were particularly close. How to choose. Oh but there was no time.
"Well, this one will do." He thought cheerfully as he pushed himself into the nearest new body. Strangely, this new body felt so familiar. Almost like what humans call home.
The Monster had not known many places to call home. Castle Blackspire was where he had spent the most time that he remembered, yes, but he couldn't call it home. The apartment where Elliot's friends lived was nice, he supposed, but they were always spoiling his fun, stopping him from doing whatever he wanted, so that place never felt quite like home either.
The Monster knew this train of thinking would displease Sister, but well, she wasn't here at the moment, so he could feel how he wanted to feel. And right now, this new body was home.
But something was wrong. Magic was going crazy all around him, and ouch! This new body hurt.
Stupid humans and their stupid fragile bodies.
He had to get out of wherever he was.
And why was this body so familiar?
Ah well, no time for that now. Only time to escape. To get somewhere safe.
And just like that, as soon as he thought it, that very instant the Monster was at Starbucks.
It was the one further from the apartment but one he liked better than the one across the street from the apartment because the humans who worked at this particular Starbucks never bothered him or gave him funny looks when he added as many sugar packets as he liked to his coffee.
As he walked over to join the line at the counter, he saw the face of his new body in the mirror.
"Why Quentin, my friend. So it's you."
He must have said this aloud because the man in line in front of him turned to say, "Sorry?" before screaming and backing away, calling out to every other human in the shop, "Someone call an ambulance!"
The Monster, ignoring the hysteria that was now unfolding around him in the Starbucks, as various customers and employees turned to him and started shrieking and running around, turned slowly back to the mirror.
Why were they so upset? He was fine. Well, I guess this body was a bit of a mess.
There was some sort of ceramic shard wedged just above Quentin's left eye. But that wasn't much, really. Shocking to humans, he supposed, but he had seen humans react to blood before and this reaction felt somehow disproportionate.
He raised his body's right hand to his forehead to touch the shard. It was right then that he knew immediately what all the humans were fussing over, and why everyone was giving him a wide berth.
"Well this is unfortunate."
The body's right arm was mangled beyond recognition. A blast from something had peeled away most of the skin to expose white bone in some areas, except from nearer up the shoulder, which looked charter but seemed to be intact - like it was made of magical wood or something. Curious.
The Monster supposed Quentin must have been holding whatever container they had been trying to hold him in before he managed to burst it open and free himself.
What a shame. He was going to have to find a new body now. And he had felt so at home with Quentin. But that was silly. Obviously Quentin had betrayed him and Sister. And where was Sister?
Suddenly pain beyond anything the Monster had ever felt before flooded all his senses, he cried out involuntarily and several people in the Starbucks screamed.
Human bodies were so damn messy. He had forgotten how truly awful pain could feel. His tolerance was pretty high, being a god and all, but this was just too much. His vision started to blur and the room spun a few times, blurs of green and brown all around him.
He made to step forward, trying to scan the humans around him, to find one that would make the best new body, but he suddenly found it took all his strength just to keep standing.
He needed a new body NOW. This one was dying. It was a simple thing, really. There were about a dozen other humans in the Starbucks, any one of them would do.
But then something stopped him. The Monster couldn't explain it. It was like a mixture of images clouded his thoughts: a small mop of brown hair resting on his shoulder, smashed model airplanes.
Oh, Sister would not like this feeling, the Monster thought to himself, but then he had an idea. One that would maybe save this body that, for some reason he couldn't explain, he so very much wanted to keep. At least for a little while.
And with that he disappeared from the Starbucks, leaving behind just a pool of Quentin's blood, and some very confused humans.
Chapter 4: You Promised
In which Alice is sad but there's a twist...
Alice opened her eyes. She was alone in a bed she didn't recognize. The stark grey sheets almost hurt. The room she was in was dark. But Alice could barely even see the room around her. She could barely even remember how she had gotten there. Then, the cruel memories flooded back all too quickly.
"Oh, ohh God - Quentin!"
Suddenly it all came back to her. The Mirror World. The bottles with the Monster and his Sister in them. Q carefully tossing the first bottle into the Seam and then Everette showing up and breaking the mirror and then...
Even with her eyes closed and sobs shaking her small frame, Alice could see Q's face as if he were right in front of her. As if they were back in the Mirror World together trying to get out of another impossible situation. In some ways, it felt almost normal. They'd gotten out of impossible situations a million times before.
But this time they had promised each other. They were done trying to sacrifice themselves for each other. As soon as the mirror broke, Alice knew what Q was thinking, almost as if she could see the gears turning behind his frantic eyes as Everette spoke.
He knew the mirror could be fixed with a minor mending. She did too. And she was terrified that he would break his promise and try it.
Which meant Alice needed to think fast so they had an alternative, any alternative, that didn't make Q have to try it. She picked up a heavy metal instrument from the table nearest her, whatever it was it was heavy enough to be some sort of weapon. She glared at the back of Everette's head, thinking. He would be underestimating them, thinking they were incapable of doing anything without magic. But they'd done plenty without magic before.
"Can't get inside his mind. Any ideas?" It was Penny, inside her head, trying to figure out a plan.
And, as always, despite all the panic and the fear, Alice had a plan.
"His body is still human. All the magic he has right now from Fillory is useless. His bones will still break." Alice thought quickly, knowing they had mere seconds. And they still needed to make Quentin know that there was a way out. A way out for all of them.
"Only way out of here is on foot. We need to break his knee or something. He won't see it coming. Don't think we can touch him though, since he's all powered up, but if we use this?"
She held up the metal object she'd picked up from the table and handed it over her shoulder behind her to Penny, who took it as he replied.
"That just might do it. I'll knock out his left knee, and then we run."
"TELL QUENTIN." Alice urged him.
She looked at Quentin, silently pleading with him that there was another way: they had a plan.
But then Quentin looked at her from over Everett's shoulder and their eyes met. His look didn't need words.
She knew he wasn't going to try mending the mirror. He was honoring his "promise." He was trusting that they'd figure out something else. He was handing the bottle to Everette.
But just as Alice looked back at Quentin with relief and readied herself for their crazy escape plan that just might work, she saw Quentin's face change from determination to horror as the bottle in his hand exploded.
"Q-q-quentin…." back in the Brakebills infirmary, Alice cradled her knees to her chest in the bed as more tears came.
She could barely breathe, her breaths coming in short hiccups through her sobs.
She had experienced pain before. But this was something entirely different. It felt like her insides were simultaneously on fire and completely numb.
"Quentin. You promised. You promised me…" she couldn't help herself from talking to the empty room as if he was there.
Suddenly her pain turned to hot red anger and she screamed. She screamed until her voice went raspy and sore. She didn't care who could hear her, if the others were close by. It didn't matter. The universe had cheated them. Had screwed Quentin. And it wasn't fair. And even though some small, rational part of Alice knew full well that life wasn't ever fair and that her grief would change nothing, she gave in to the anger and the pain and just lay there curled on her side, screaming and crying into that empty room until she eventually tired herself out and fell into a fitful sleep.
Chapter 5: Waiting, Worrying (and Screaming)
Margo is terrified. Penny is worried. Eliot and Julia are unconscious. And Alice screams.
A horrible scream echoed from somewhere down the corridor.
Margo looked up from Elliot's unconscious face for the first time since Professor Lipson had wheeled him back out of the operating room.
Penny was sitting not too far away, next to another bed where Julia was lying, also unconscious.
There was some sort of joke in that - the two of them unconscious for who knows how long. No one sure what either will be like if they wake up. When. When they wake up, Margo corrected herself.
Another awful scream.
"Yeah…..it's her." Penny winced as he looked solemnly up at Margo from across Julia's bed. " I've strengthened my wards tenfold, but every time she screams - ugh - some still gets through."
"You'd think they'd have made the infirmary soundproof. The spell isn't that hard." Margo replied, turning away.
She looked back down at Eliot, his long curls matted and askew, but at least no longer covered in flecks of his own blood. She forced herself to blink away the other image of Eliot, the one where he was on the ground in the woods bleeding out because of the axe she had buried into his stomach. Instead she tried to take in all of the Eliot that was now in front of her. The real Eliot, so peaceful he could be sleeping. Except he wasn't. She gently brushed a stray curl out from in front of his closed eyes.
Another scream from down the hall.
"Jesus H. Christ." Margo spat, "Can't someone put that bitch on mute?"
"That's cold." Penny replied flatly without looking up at her, "What if it had been Eliot? Huh? What would you do?"
"Don't you dare," Margo growled, still not looking up from Eliot, trying to focus on the rise and fall of his chest that was the only thing proving that he wasn't dead too.
"You weren't there. And even if you were. You don't get to judge." Penny spat back.
Margo, for the first time in her life, didn't feel like mustering a reply. She was too tired. So fucking done. The only hope left for her was for Eliot to open up his goddamn gorgeous eyes. And she hated herself for doubting that it would happen.
As much as she liked to think she didn't really care, Margo was NOT okay with Quentin being dead.
It took her a while to fully believe it too, given that there was no real proof. She'd made Penny tell the story over and over until he'd finally shouted at her, "The whole Mirror World fucking exploded and everything turned into light, okay?!! There is no fucking way he's alive! End of story."
Thankfully, that had been after Professor Lipson had given Alice a potion to help her sleep and set her up in that separate room. Margo didn't like Alice, but she didn't think the truth needed to be screamed at Alice like that, even if it did need to be screamed at Margo.
The whole thing just didn't add up. They'd gone through way worst shit together and all come out the other side and now, one of them was dead, and two might be heading the same way.
Stop. Stop it. You saved Eliot. You got him back.
"Well, when you put it so sweetly, Bambi"
Margo had been clinging to those words for the last 24 hours. Those stupid, sarcastic, beautiful words that her Eliot had spoken to her just before he passed out. And then there had been so much blood. His blood, on her hands.
She forced herself back to the present. From two beds over, Penny was muttering something to himself, or trying to talk to the unconscious Julia. Margo didn't know which and frankly didn't care much either way, so long as he wasn't trying to talk to her.
Alice must've fallen asleep again because her screaming had stopped.
Thank the fucking Lord.
But then something caught in Margo's throat. Something she wasn't expecting. Something that scared her.
Penny was right. She would have been just like that if it had been Eliot. She would have cursed and screamed and thrown things and fallen completely apart. And that scared the shit out of her, the fact that her ability to deal with shit could have been shattered to a million pieces in an instant. And still could be.
Margo could feel hot tears begin to sting her eyes. No, she couldn't lose it now, she had to be strong for Eliot. She fumbled for Elliot's hand and laced her tiny fingers between his long ones.
"El?" she whispered, leaning down so her chin was practically resting on his chest. "I'm here, baby. Bambi's here."
Eliot just kept breathing. Which Margo supposed was all she could ask of him right now.
She just wanted to make sure he knew she was here, if she could even do that. Because it wasn't fair that Quentin couldn't be here too. She knew how much Eliot loved that floppy haired nerd, even if he'd never outright said it. And she dreaded the look she'd see on Eliot's face when she'd have to tell him that Q was dead. But she would be there for Eliot then too, even if he screamed for hours like Alice.
Margo lay her forehead gently against Eliot's chest, listening to his heartbeat, which thank God was still there, and let her tears fall.
Chapter 6: Help
The Monster searches for someone to help him save the body he's in (Quentin's body)...though he's not sure why.
TW: gore, violence
The Monster appeared just where he had wanted to. Or so he hoped. The pain of this body was starting to overwhelm him. Pain was such a nuisance.
He stumbled towards the entrance to the nearest tent before he heard a firm, "HALT" from behind him.
Slowly, painfully, he turned around, swaying dangerously.
Three centaurs stood behind him, eyeing him suspiciously.
One female centaur's face turned white as a sheet when it saw the face of his body. The Monster supposed this was one of the centaurs who had treated Quentin before. Perfect. All according to plan.
"H-help m-me" he sputtered in the best impersonation of Quentin he could muster.
The centaur who recognized him began to step forward, but another centaur with a brown coat and white star on it's chest, stopped her.
"This is not Quentin." it said cautiously to the others, "whatever it is triggered our wards, but was still able to get through them,” then turning to face the Monster and scowling the brown-coated centaur said, “Who are you?"
Oh dear, time for plan b, thought the Monster sadly. Plan A would have been so much easier.
Using Quentin's good arm, the Monster made a clean slashing motion through the air that caused the brown-coated centaur to instantly fall dead to the grass, his body sliced into several bloody pieces.
The two other centaurs cried out and rushed at the Monster, but he brought one to its knees, literally, cutting off all four of its legs at the knee, and the other, the female who had recognized Quentin, the Monster froze her in mid gallop, two of her hooves still pawing at air.
"Here's the deal." He knew he had to be quick. He was strong, but this body was so, so weak. If he wanted to keep it and didn't want to have to migrate into the body of a centaur (less ideal for Earth visits) he had to be fast, "Either I kill you and all of your other centaur pals here and then I possess your lifeless body, or you help sew my current meat sack back together."
The centaur didn't respond. This angered the Monster at first. Until he realized he had not unfrozen her.
"Oh, silly me" he said aloud, impatient.
With a flick of his wrist, she could move her facial muscles again.
"O-k-kay." she could barely look at him. "but you'll need to unfreeze me now if you want to be able to keep that arm."
"Deal" the Monster released her. And then, for good measure, "just to be clear, I will kill and possess you if this body isn't saved."
He liked Quentin's body. For some stupid reason he couldn't understand right now, he wanted to try to keep it. But he wasn't willing to die for it.
The centaur nodded, gently scooped him up from the ground and carried him to the nearest stone operating table, chanting some spell that had seemed to stop most of his bleeding.
Good, thought the Monster. This was good.
"This is going to hurt" she said cautiously after a few minutes peeling away what was left of Quentin's shirt from his blood soaked body.
"Proceed. I can ignore human pain."
But what came next was definitely not fun. And as he gritted his teeth against truly awful sensations he had never felt before, the Monster wondered why he had thought this was the best course of action.
Well, no turning back now, unless he really wanted to have hooves.
Chapter 7: Choices
It's Julia's turn to be a goddess.
At the sound of her name, Julia opened her eyes. But she was no longer lying in that hospital bed at Brakebills. More importantly, the pain that had felt like someone was ripping her back open with a chainsaw over and over every two minutes was gone. She felt amazing, actually.
She sat up and looked around. She was in a strange forest filled with golden flower blossoms blowing in a gentle breeze. She recognized it immediately.
And then she saw who it was who had said her name, "Our Lady Underground. But I thought it, the Monster had killed you."
"Hello Julia. I'm glad you finally made it here. Frankly I wasn't sure if you'd be coming at all. I don't have much time left, but I wanted to talk with you."
"Shhh, listen child." Our Lady Underground continued gently, but urgently, "Against all odds, I am dying. What you see before you is the last figment of my power. But as you become a goddess yourself, I wanted to ask if you would be willing to carry on my title. Humans across the world will continue to pray to Our Lady Underground, and I would much rather you took my place rather than have my name and its power die off. But, this only works if it is what you truly want. I cannot force you to take on my namesake. I do, however, believe that doing so will help ease you into goddesshood, rather than you having to create your own goddess identity from scratch. Either way, it is your choice. So what do you say?"
"Sorry, uh, sorry to be so inarticulate right now,” Julia still felt very disoriented, “I appreciate your offer, but I'm confused. How did I even get here? I mean, last I remember I was possessed and then I was in the Brakebills infirmary and now…"
She trailed off, bits and pieces of memory coming back in vignettes: her calling out to Our Lady Underground at the altar where the Monster possessed her with his Sister; Our Lady Underground falling to the grass, presumably dead, by her very own hand; sitting next to Eliot (no not Eliot, the Monster) on a park bench?; lying on the floor of her old apartment with Q, them both looking up at the underside of her coffee table where their old childhood map of Fillory still was (but wait, that had happened long ago), and then the pain of being pulled back into her body and nothing but pain from then until...now.
"Julia," OLU said gently, realizing that she was likely interrupting many memories, but still focused on the task she came there to do, "The Binder has helped you unlock your pathway to goddesshood. He saw your truest, deepest desire to help the world and this is just the first step on your long journey back to goddesshood. But my life force is fading fast, I can feel it. Before I go, I must know. Would you carry on my name?"
Julia looked back at OLU once more, this time with understanding and compassion, not confusion, in her eyes.
"Our Lady Underground, I’m so sorry that I got you killed. I didn’t mean to -” Julia began but OLU interrupted her.
"Apologies not needed, Julia. I tried to help, I always try, but this time I was too late and it cost me."
"But with all due respect, that's just the thing. You're always too late. When your son used your name to rape and torture Hedges, when you finally explained to me why I was still having visions, and even at the end, you only showed up when I was in such peril that even you could not save yourself from the monsters I was facing. I cannot accept your namesake. Our Lady Underground's time is over. I will find my own path and create my own name: one that Hedges will pray to knowing that their prayers will be heard the first time, and not when it's already too late."
OLU nodded solemnly and said, "I respect your decision. Julia, it does not surprise me that you have chosen to make your own path. I wish you the very best."
Julia nodded, then added, "But where will you go? When you die, I mean..."
OLU sighed, "We do not know where gods go when they die, as gods very rarely die. But it does give me hope to know that while my time is over, yours is just beginning. Goodbye, Julia"
"Goodbye, Our Lady Underground"
And with that she disappeared, leaving Julia alone under the golden trees. Then Julia saw a small white gate appear a few feet ahead of her. She knew that walking through that gate would start her on her new journey. And, without hesitation, she took a deep breath and walked straight through.
Chapter 8: Love Hurts
Penny finally gets to talk to Julia...but it's not what he expected.
It had been five days since Julia had started her journey to goddesshood and passed out. In that time, Penny had only left her bedside at the Brakebills infirmary once to travel Alice and Quentin to the Seam. The fact that only he and Alice had returned from that journey only deepened his resolve to never leave Julia's side until she woke up. You never knew when people might be taken from you forever. He had already lost Julia once, and he was not going to lose her again. He knew that her eventually becoming a goddess would make things different, but he would stay by her side through it all.
But she might not want him anymore.
The thought kept creeping up on him, especially at night when he was so tired but refused to let himself sleep for fear of missing Julia waking up.
Having some conscious company in the infirmary the last three days had helped him not fall asleep - Margo was playing sentinel for Eliot just like he was for Julia. And while she wasn't the best conversationalist (and that was putting it mildly), it did help that Margo was able to share some very useful spellwork: how to stay awake, how to make food appear, how to not have to pee. All very useful.
He'd also tried to help by trying to read Eliot's mind, but it was so messed up from being possessed for so long, he kept getting kicked out and was afraid to push further without accidentally hurting Eliot.
Margo was pissed when he'd reported back nothing, but she seemed a little less gruff towards him after he’d tried.
Needless to say, he'd tried every day, sometimes multiple times a day, to read Julia's mind. But ever since he'd first read it and understood clearly that she wanted to become a goddess rather than permanently human, and the Binder initiated the transformation process, all Penny could see when he tried to explore inside her head was this warm golden light. It wasn't unpleasant, but it also didn't let him communicate with Julia, which was unsettling.
He had so many questions that the Binder just couldn't answer….
“How long will it take for her to become a goddess?”
“The Binder knows not of the duration of said transformation.”
“Will she wake up or will her body die when she becomes a goddess?”
“The Binder understands either of those scenarios to be equally possible.”
“Is there anything you can tell me about this process that you do know?”
“The Binder tires of this constant questioning and reminds Penny that the Binder's energies are best spent helping Julia with her transformation rather than responding to irritating questions.”
At that point, Penny had begun swearing loudly, and the Binder completely ignored him.
Thankfully, the Binder finished whatever his part was in the process of Julia's transformation in the first day and then insisted he return to his book and hadn't come back out in his human form since. Kady and the hedges were guarding the book, since the Library was still a mess after Everette had been destroyed and no one trusted anyone that had anything to do with the Library very much at all.
But the more time went on and Julia's condition remained unchanged, the more Penny worried whether or not he'd made the right call. Honoring Julia's wishes was one thing, but keeping her safe was entirely another. He'd prioritized what she wanted, deep down in her subconscious: to be a goddess again. But was it worth honoring her wishes if it risked her safety when neither of them, and apparently not even the Binder, knew the risks it involved?
But there was no going back now, that was one thing the Binder had made crystal clear.
Penny sighed, absentmindedly rubbing the back of Julia's hand with his fingers. Her skin felt colder to his touch the last few days somehow. He was sure of it. But the magical medical staff had found nothing wrong with her every time he begged them to check again.
The room was nearly dark around them, the sun setting behind the campus clocktower. The last time Penny had tried to read Julia's mind had been that morning. Despite Margo's magic anti-sleeping spell, staying up for a 6th night straight was going to be a challenge, so now was as good a time as any to try to read Julia’s mind again before his energy dropped even further.
Penny gently clasped Julia's small, cold hand into both of his and closed his eyes, focusing his energy on the woman lying in front of him.
Again, he was met by that familiar warm, golden glow. Nothing new. He was about to leave her mind again, blink his eyes and be back in the infirmary, alone, sitting next to Julia’s body lying in bed, when he saw her. It was as clear as if she was standing right in front of him, dressed all in white, floating against the golden void around them both, smiling her beautiful smile, her eyes vibrant and alive…
"Julia..." Penny breathed her name out loud, and reached out a hand to her. He moved forward towards her, but soon found that no matter how many steps forward he took, Julia's form was always just beyond his reach.
Julia looked at him calmly, that familiar warm smile still on her lips, "Hi Penny"
"Uh, hi." Penny replied awkwardly. This was not the reunion he was expecting, but if it was all he got, he was gonna roll with it. "Are you ok? How are you feeling?"
Julia laughed softly (and it really was her laugh), "I'm fine. More than fine, actually. You don't have to worry about me anymore. In fact, that's what I came to tell you, Penny. Well, that, and to thank you. I know it could not have been easy to blindly trust in my wishes, when the outcome was so uncertain, but you did, and I will always be grateful."
"Julia?" Now Penny could feel panic rising in his chest, something he always tried to avoid but right now could not stop it: this did NOT sound like Julia at all, this apparition or whatever it was.
"Oh, sorry" Julia said, obviously not needing him to reply vocally but reading his thoughts this time, "I don't mean to sound weird. This whole transformation is showing me so much and, well, language itself doesn't have the same meaning as it did before, so it's hard to remember how Julia used to talk."
Not bothering to speak this time, Penny just allowed himself to think the thought: Does this mean she’s not Julia anymore, or that she won't be?
"A part of me will always be Julia. But now I will also be so much more. I will take a new name, not sure what yet but I swear to you it'll be totally badass - that’s something old Julia would say, I think."
Penny’s mind kept racing and he directed his thoughts to her: Will you wake up in your old body? I've been here, waiting for you and, oh God Jules, I just don't know what to do -
"Penny," her voice was even, but not condescending, more like she just wanted to be absolutely sure he understood what she was about to say next, "That Julia is gone. A true goddess has no need of a body. That is why I wanted to appear to you here. When your mind returns to your body, I will be gone, and I didn't think that was right to leave you without first saying goodbye."
Wait - leave? Say goodbye??! What the fuck?! Jules, I can't lose you again - you have no idea - I did this for you! I thought we had more time! Please - you have eternity to be a goddess, so why can't you stay one measly lifetime with me? This is all so goddamn unfair - I mean you're a goddess now, can't you just make the rules? Don't you want to stay with me?
That last part he probably would not have said aloud if they'd been talking, but with her reading his thoughts, it was all out there in the open.
"Penny, goddesses, by nature, cannot live and dwell among humans. That I can't change. But I do not intend to be just another aloof goddess that makes humans completely fend for themselves. You better believe that I will change some fucking rules around here, just you wait and see.”
Penny could feel the tears in his eyes before he could even try to stop them. He couldn’t think anything, it was all just too much, so he just stared at Julia’s glowing form as she continued trying to explain to him.
“I chose this as my destiny, and it honestly always was, even before you came along and tried to replace what you had lost with me. But I am not that Julia. I was never your Julia. And you're right - it isn't fair. But unfortunately life rarely is."
Penny felt something snap inside him and he began to sob uncontrollably. His thoughts were a jumbled mess of anger and hurt, and he wished she couldn't hear them, but knew she could.
"Oh, Penny. I did love you, and I still do. I will always be with you, but not in the way that you think you need."
In his desperation he tried another tactic: if it wasn't him she would stay for, then what about their other friends. They needed her. Kady was trying to help Hedges safely remove Reid's mark, now that the Library was in shambles. Magic wasn't being siphoned off anymore, but there was no telling if the Library might go back at it once it rebuilt. Eliot might never wake up, and if he does who knows what being possessed for a few months will have done to him. And Quentin…
For the first time since she appeared to him, Julia looked sad. Her face fell and her glow dimmed slightly as she replied.
"I know about Quentin. And it makes me so sad, even though a goddess should know better than to value any one individual human life, I find I can't help myself. Quentin was my best friend."
But you can change it can't you? - Penny thought quickly, hoping that even if it was for Quentin and not for him, maybe this could bring her back to Earth. - I mean you're a fucking goddess - change some rules and bring him back!
"Penny, I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought of that. But I can't. I did however check to see where his shade ended up. And I found something curious, which I wanted to tell you so you can tell the group. It's not in the underworld."
Wait what?? So he's alive?! Penny's thoughts raced.
"Unfortunately not necessarily so. His body may very well be dead, but his soul, his shade, has not reached its final resting place yet. I will continue doing what I can to search for it, but the magic explosion in the Mirror World has made it nearly impossible to trace without knowing where to look. All I can say is that I'm certain Q's not in the underworld: his shade has not passed on. And if he is in fact dead, Quentin's soul deserves to be at peace. I will do what I can to find out anything more, but for now, that's all I know."
Penny gritted his teeth, not ashamed of hiding his angry thoughts anymore - But you still refuse to stay? You'll keep trying to help Quentin, but you won't just stay with me?
"Quentin's death was connected to an explosion in the Mirror World that may have other implications for magic for everyone. And no one deserves to die without being able to truly rest. You are a perfectly healthy Traveler, who suffered greatly, found a way to help others despite that suffering, and then decided for some reason to attach your self-worth to the love of a woman who always had a bigger story. I feel for you, I do. But you will survive and you will thrive and you will find things in yourself you didn't know possible. And I did love you, so please don't ever doubt that. Goodbye Penny."
Wait! No! Don't go yet - please!
But the golden image of Julia, or the goddess that used to be Julia, had begun to fade from Penny's mind.
He tried to memorize her smile, her eyes, everything and anything he could before she disappeared completely.
"Remember, I'm never far. And please get some sleep and eat something, if not for yourself, then do it for me."
And suddenly Penny was back in the dark infirmary ward, his hands grasping nothing but fistfuls of empty bedsheets.
Julia's body was gone. Penny was alone.