What looked like City Hall, everyone else called The Fortress, although there were no walls to protect it from a belligerent crowd. The only protection was the ring of Blue Knights, three rows deep, blue caps shielding their eyes from view. The knights permitted some degree of forced entry, converging upon trespassers with a relentless barrage of punches and kicks, thrashing them with truncheons before cuffing them and throwing their limp, broken bodies near carrier vans.
The Blue Knights managed to secure a single entrance to city hall, the crowd thrust against the opening, only one mighty surge away from storming it.
But the people in the crowd were just as faceless as the knights, eyes in shadow and mouths without voice, although the grumbling of thousands was deafening. One might have called the people zombies, although Carmen called them the Olvidados, those who knew nothing of other worlds and were all too quick to act on suggestion. And it was the Olvidados who believed in Ozymandias, knowing that prophecy predicted his return, and who were fully expecting to see him in the flesh.
It didn’t matter who claimed to be Ozymandias, as long as someone did; and the people accepted Murdoch at his word. When he told them he could give them the future they’d always wanted, they cheered. When he told them that he was the truth and that all who refused to follow were evildoers, the crowd was ready to punish.
“They want you to suffer and be forgotten,” yelled Murdoch over the loudspeakers planted atop cars and lampposts. “But I will save you all.”
If there was saving to be done, thought Tyler, how did Murdoch expect to accomplish it? If these people were relics of the past, what future could he offer them? Or was that the nature of the miracle he was offering?
Tyler held a hand to his face, fearful that Murdoch might turn the crowd against him. Even after five minutes weaving through the crowd, there was no sign of it thinning.
“You cannot save people from being forgotten,” muttered Carmen as she led Tyler through the crowd.
“You can,” reminded Wallace, as the crowd closed in before revealing an alternate path to the surroundings streets. “But Mr. Murdoch ain’t the one to do it.”
The other tramps had already dispersed in all directions, directing everyone to follow them to Twin Towers, the very symbol of injustice, where so many died forgotten.
Tyler turned to find Laurel following closely behind. Laurel didn’t appear to notice Carmen’s hand clutching his, nor did she seem to care. Every few seconds, she paused as if someone were telling her something, and then she picked up her pace, as if distance from Murdoch might keep his voice at bay.
Tyler knew he had to get Laurel home, and he’d take the chance that Murdoch could still inhabit her dreams. What harm could dreams do her as long as she forgot them when she awoke?
“Are you ready for the future?” howled Murdoch’s voice through the loudspeakers. The crowd roared.
Just then, Laurel dropped to her knees, hands to her ears. Tyler pulled free of Carmen, grabbing Laurel by the shoulders.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“He’s still inside my head,” she said, visibly panicked.
“I’ll get you home.”
“There’s no point,” she answered.
“He can’t make us do what we don’t want to do,” assured Tyler.
“You don’t know him, do you?” she answered, more aggrieved than angry. What if she gave up? Could he carry her?
“We have to go,” insisted Carmen, reaching for Laurel’s arms, but Laurel swatted her away.
“He only wants me to be safe,” said Laurel to herself.
“He doesn’t care about you,” reminded Tyler.
“He’s always known me. And he’s been waiting for me so long.”
“It’s not true,” insisted Tyler.
Laurel turned to the Fortress, her eyes closed as Murdoch’s voice crackled over nearby speakers
“Can you see what I see,” said Murdoch. “It’s everything you ever wanted.”
Carmen shook her head. “We have to carry her,” explained Carmen as tramps in long coats and tattered clothes filtered through the crowd, grabbing Laurel and hoisting her aloft as she squirmed and kicked, her arms reaching in the direction of the building.
“Where are they taking her?” demanded Tyler, following them. “I need to take her home.”
“We need you here,” answered Carmen, a hand to his arm. He turned to face her. “I need you here.”
“There’s nothing I can do. I’ll be lucky to get her back.”
“What’s so great about home that you need to go back?”
Tyler couldn’t remember. It wasn’t that he wanted to return home. It’s that he couldn’t bear the thought of someone preventing him.
“This wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for you.”
“I did nothing,” he replied, following the tramps as they carried Laurel through the thinning crowd.
“Where are you taking her?” he yelled. But they said nothing.
“She’ll go back to him,” explained Carmen.
“Is everything so inevitable here?” he asked, realizing why he wanted to go home. Murdoch was inevitable, but Tyler’s future couldn’t have been more uncertain.
“Not anymore. Not since you came. And it hasn’t been like this since West came here so long ago.”
“Then you know I’m not him.”
“You think I’m that clueless?”
“You want eternity,” roared Murdoch’s voice. “I give it to you.” The crowd was ecstatic, people leaping up and down and some standing atop shoulders.
“So when we …” Tyler began, thinking of their night together.
Carmen grabbed him, holding her head to his chest. “You reminded me of him, but you’re different. And now I feel different. Everyone feels different.”
“They listen to him now,” he said, observing Laurel struggle to reclaim her freedom.
“They listen to anyone who inspires them.”
“But they’re lies.”
“What they dream, he creates,” answered Wallace, appearing at Carmen’s side. “He needs their desires and their hopes.”
“Then he is Ozymandias,” concluded Tyler.
“The real Ozymandias takes nothing and gives everything,” answered Wallace. “Murdoch takes everything he can.”
“You see why we need to go,” Tyler told Carmen.
“You run away, just like your father,” answered Carmen angrily. “We risk everything and you just want to go someplace else. I don’t understand why you come here. It makes no sense at all.”
With Laurel still struggling to return to Murdoch, none of it made any sense. He wanted to go home because he wanted to forget everything. But how could he forget what wasn’t a dream?
“Can you help me take her home?” Tyler asked Wallace.
“That’s not our journey. That’s yours and hers.”
“How do I keep her from going back to him?”
“There’s only one way to stop him, but it won’t happen if you leave.”
Tyler didn’t know what Wallace meant, but he remembered his watch. It was supposed to keep his thoughts clear. What if he gave it to Laurel? Could he endure Murdoch’s thoughts better than she could? If not, who would stop him from returning to Murdoch?
To do nothing was to give Murdoch everything he wanted. But Tyler was too defiant to give in so easily.
Without giving it another moment’s thought, he unfastened the watch from his arm and affixed it to Laurel’s arm. Within seconds, she fell limp, the startled tramps sliding her body to the ground and backing away as if she were suddenly diseased.
Puzzled, Laurel gazed up at Tyler, the chanting crowd in the distance.
“What are we doing?”
“Going home,” he assured her.
Tyler would have asked Carmen to join him in the other world, but he suspected she had no interest in it. Besides, she was nowhere to be found.
He listened for voices in his head, but heard only the crowd chanting the name “Ozymandias.”
“Do you hear him?” asked Tyler.
“Who?” asked Laurel.
“Why would I hear him?” she answered, puzzlement growing. “And why are we here?” she asked, examining her surroundings with surprise.
And then Tyler heard a voice, one much like his own. The voice was loud and resonant, yet distant.
Closing his eyes, he imagined Magus standing atop an overturned squad car, addressing a small crowd out of earshot of Murdoch.
Tyler opened his eyes and turned.
“You can see again,” noted Wallace. “You should go. Carmen was expecting this. She knows the future too. Guess she thought she could change it. But that would mean changin’ you, but she don’t understand you can’t change folks.”
“She can’t change it, but you can,” explained Wallace. “Go.”
Tyler turned to Laurel. She was standing next to him, awaiting his next move. He wondered if his next move had already been made; and it would have been if this were the past.
His intention was to seek out Magus’ voice. And assuming he did just that, the near future would bring them face to face.
Grabbing Laurel’s hand, he imagined the imminent future, imagined that he was already standing before Magus, Laurel still at his side.
And so it happened, Magus standing atop an overturned car, a youthful crowd collecting around him. Time was once again at his disposal. Had the watch kept him from leaping backwards and forwards? If West wanted him to remember, why did he give him a talisman that made him forget everything?
“I told you he’d appear,” noted Magus, beaming as he leveled his finger at Tyler. Heads turned followed by a collective gasp. Tyler couldn’t see their faces clearly, but he saw them retreat fearfully.
“What’s going on?” asked Laurel apprehensively.
“We’re leaving,” announced Tyler to Magus.
“He is the master of time,” announced Magus. “King of kings. Alpha and omega. The beginning and the end.”
People nearby fell to their knees, hands outstretched. “Ozymandias” they murmured as if awestruck.
“And no,” continued Magus, “this isn’t the end.”
“This isn’t right,” said Tyler. If they didn’t see through the lie, he would admit it as soon as possible. If truth were so important, why mislead anyone? Only liars like Murdoch claimed to be gods and prophets. “I’m not Ozymandias,” he insisted. “I’m not.”
The people trembled, no less in awe, despite his denial.
“And he denies it,” said Magus, “Just as prophecy foretold.”
How was it possible they were linked in any fashion? They had nothing in common. For one, thought Tyler, Magus had no commitment to truth, mocking people for their belief in the fantastical. But what was there in Two Cities that wasn’t hard to believe?
“Are you ready to become one?” asked Magus before turning to the crowd. “And when they look inside each other,” intoned Magus, “they will find what they are seeking and shall become as one.”
Tyler was no longer interested in linking himself with Magus, not if it meant supporting a lie; or was Two Cities built on lies, much like the ones Murdoch was still telling everyone?
“Are you going to stay?” asked Tyler, hoping Magus would decline the offer to leave. “I’m going.”
“He can hear us,” announced Magus, his body stiff with trepidation. Was he referring to Murdoch? “And he will promise freedom only to enslave us all,” added Magus, his eyes closed.
“Let’s go then,” said Tyler, imagining himself returning to Los Angeles, passing safely through the door in the basement of King Eddy’s Saloon. He imagined a happy ending, and he imagined one day forgetting everything that happened in Two Cities.
Tyler remembered the cellar, crates containing bottles of whiskey and gin. But he didn’t remember a wall without a door. Where had the door gone? Perhaps it was behind the crates?
Tyler turned to find Laurel still at his side. How much time had passed since speaking to Magus, and why hadn’t Magus joined him?
“Where are we?” asked Laurel, startled by the shift of view. But didn’t she recognize the room? How else had she entered Two Cities?
“A room of your own making” said Murdoch, appearing from the shadows. “Is this really what you want?”
Tyler felt nauseous. Was their no escaping this man? Or had they never escaped him?
If the future belonged to Murdoch, perhaps it made more sense to dig deeper into the past, at least until the door reappeared. Tyler imagined the room as it was when he and Magus first entered it, but his thoughts were of no use. Nothing changed and no door reappeared.
Murdoch was examining the watch on Laurel’s wrist, just as she lurched free of him.
“That’s your father’s watch,” observed Murdoch, offering Tyler a broad grin.
“She doesn’t belong to you,” insisted Tyler.
“No,” agreed Murdoch, stilling grinning. “But you do. And I always knew you’d come. I didn’t know when to expect you. I admit I was surprised, pleasantly so. But it was meant to be, was it not? Now, you know why you’re here, don’t you?”
“My grandmother wanted me here,” replied Tyler. “She never said why.”
“Because she’s fool enough to think the future depends on you and you alone when it depends on both of us. You and me. It’s been prophesied, if you believe in that kind of thing, which I know you don’t. Why leave the future to fate when you can own it? And why leave this place, never to return, when you can come and go as you please?”
“I don’t belong to you,” replied Tyler, repulsed by the thought of surrendering control.
“Would you prefer it if I belonged to you?” asked Murdoch, still smiling. The thought was no less unnerving.
“Where am I?” asked Tyler.
“The moment you realize you don’t need to go anywhere because you’re already where you need to be. You and her, if she’s the one you want. Or is that singer? The pretty one with the head scarf. What’s her name? Oh, that’s it. Carmen. You like her, don’t you? We should all go back home.”
“He’s lying,” whispered Laurel. “He always does.”
Tyler suspected this wasn’t the future, not his at any rate. It was a future Murdoch had crafted exclusively for him, one without choice and one where lies could be adjusted to resemble the truth.
“This isn’t real,” concluded Tyler.
“Are you sure you know the difference?” demanded Murdoch, no longer smiling.
“Then why are you still here?” asked Murdoch. “Or do you prefer to pretend?”
Tyler realized he couldn’t imagine a future which didn’t exist, not yet anyway. For some reason, he and Laurel couldn’t leave. But if this room wasn’t the real future, then what was? And how had he overlooked it?
Tyler would retrace his footsteps, until the future was something he remembered, not fabricated from wishful thinking.