Tyler peered down the colonnaded transept of the church, the resplendent white marble of the altar lit from above.
The cathedral appeared empty. If it had been abandoned, it was for good reason. The Blue Knights were probably already outside the church, which would make it exceedingly challenging to escape without notice. They were effectively trapped, without a back-up plan. Was this why he couldn’t remember a future in which he returned home to Los Angeles?
This was just a small cathedral, there being no office for prelates, much less a cardinal.
“We are not receiving visitors,” announced a stern voice from above. Tyler could see no loud speaker. Tyler recognized the voice as that of the Cardinal.
“We’ve came to speak to the cardinal,” announced Magus.
“The Cardinal is not receiving visitors,” answered the voice. Tyler was confident it was the Cardinal’s voice, which meant he was nearby. There was an adjoining building, but was it too late to set foot outside? Tyler could already clatter of booted feet.
“We’re staying here,” insisted Faye, taking a seat behind one of the wooden pews, but looking out of place as she tapped her shoulder-length hair, removing a compact case from a jacket pocket to examine her reflection.
Tyler figured the source of the voice was either behind the altar or next door. He walked down the aisle with Laurel, her arms bound to his.
“Do we really need this?” Laurel said, gesturing to the rope over their wrists. “This feels ridiculous.”
It felt like a wedding, and the thought embarrassed Tyler as much as it appeared to embarrass Laurel. He was prepared to take his chances that Murdoch would find him. He was too eager to leave Two Cities for anyone, even Murdoch, to persuade him to linger longer than necessary.
Tyler worked the knot loose and began unwinding the rope, Laurel pulling at the room to loosen it until she could yank her arm free.
“So much for our lovebirds,” noted Faye with a smirk, returning the compact case to her pocket.
Tyler listened. He’d be prepared for Murdoch this time.
“You cannot stay,” said the Cardinal’s voice.
“It’s Ozymandias,” shouted Magus with a broad grin.
Tyler walked past the altar to a side door, half expecting the Cardinal behind a curtain. But there was no one in there.
“Ozymandias will return to heal,” answered the voice. “Not to destroy, as you have done.”
Tyler saw the loud speaker overhead, which buzzed, the second the Cardinal stopped speaking.
“La Reina said you would help,” shouted Laurel, rubbing her arm which was still red from the rope she’d pulled off.
“You speak to la Reina now?” asked the Cardinal’s voice. “She shares her voice through me and me alone, and she has no interest in sham divinity.”
The concern seemed reasonable enough. If there was a misunderstanding, thought Tyler, it ought to be corrected.
“I am not Ozymandias,” shouted Tyler, “but there is one who calls himself that. Russell Murdoch.”
The Cardinal was silent. Perhaps Tyler had hit upon a sore point.
“You are Ozymandias,” corrected Magus.
Tyler shook his head. “There’s no Ozymandias,” he answered, his voice low.
“There is,” echoed the Cardinal’s voice. How had he overheard? “But Ozymandias is not one man but two, concealing himself for protection from those who’d destroy him. The prophecy is clear on that.”
“There are two,” announced Magus, cheerfully.
“There’s a long history of pretenders,” answered the Cardinal. “What Russell Murdoch claims is nothing new. But he disregards the prophecy as if it doesn’t apply to him, as if he could reframe it to suit his purposes. He sent his followers home but he has only to call them out, and they will follow.”
“He wants to keep us here,” said Tyler. “But we don’t belong here. All we need is help to get home.”
The Cardinal fell silent again.
“Are you there?” asked Tyler.
There was a bang at the front door, startling everyone. Bandini had bolted the door closed, but it wouldn’t take much to force it open again.
Mad Dog gestured everyone toward the altar.
Again, someone bangs at the door. “I demand entry,” announced a voice Tyler remembered as that of the Grey Lady.
Everyone retreated to the front of the church.
“Well,” said the Cardinal’s voice. “Open it. She’s within her rights.”
Tyler hesitated, walking away from the others to the rear of the church.
“Tyler,” cautioned Laurel, her hand to his arms.
“It’s her. The Grey Lady.”
“Don’t,” pleaded Laurel.
Tyler pulled himself free of Laurel and approached the rear of the church.
“What are you intentions?” shouted Tyler.
“My intentions?” replied the Grey Lady testily. “What do my intentions have to do with anything? Who is this?”
“Tyler Hackett, You said I could go home.”
“Yes, of course. Why are you still here?”
“That’s the problem.”
“Open the door,” she insisted.
Laurel backed away as Tyler unbolted the door, peering outside. But the Grey Lady’s strength was surprising as she pushed it open and walked in, the open door revealing a loose formation of Blue Knights, faceless as they marched south. Several blocks away there was gunfire and shouting.
“I said you were to go home,” declared the Grey Lady, now bespectacled as she seemed to tower over him in a floor-length professorial gown that smacked of intellectual authority in any and all disputed subjects.
“Russell Murdoch doesn’t want me going home.”
“Him?” replied the Grey Lady with a contemptuous snort. “He’s promised everything and delivered nothing; promised to disappear and now he’s everywhere promising the same future he’s been promising the Council for years. How is it he’s not letting you leave? I didn’t realize it was his decision to make?”
The Grey Lady didn’t give Tyler any time to answer. “Where’s the Cardinal?” she asked, noticing Laurel and the others.
Somewhere behind the altar, a door closed.
“Can you hear me?” she yelled. But there was no response.
Footsteps echoed their approach as the Cardinal, dressed in black cassock and red buttons and sash, a red skullcap atop his greying hair. He appeared agitated, nervous even.
“What brings you here?” he asked the Grey Lady.
“Are you aware of what’s happening outside?” she asked the Cardinal.
“They will destroy everything and the General and his Blues won’t be able to stop them this time,” answered the Cardinal, his gaze lowered. “It was foretold.”
“What was foretold?” she asked.
“The new shall stand on the grave of the old,” answered the Cardinal.
“You mean the myth of Ozymandias,” remarked the Grey Lady. “And Ozymandias shall invite the future to bury the past …”
“There is no Ozymandias here,” said the Carinal, gesturing for the others to leave.
“Will you still help us get back home?” asked Tyler of the Grey Lady.
“All of you?” she asked, surprised.
“Just me and Laurel,” said Tyler.
“What is your name again?” she asked Tyler.
“Tyler Hackett,” he replied, Magus approaching to stand at Tyler’s side.
“That’s right. The twins.”
“Not twins,” answered Magus. “We are one. And la Reina shall make it so, if the Cardinal permits it.”
“What do I permit?” asked the Cardinal. “La Reina does not exist for you,” he told Tyler.
“I had a vision,” said the Grey Lady. “She told me to come here. Why else would I be here?”
“I don’t understand” mumbled the Cardinal, even more agitated than before. “Are you sure? She came to you?”
“And why not?” asked the Grey Lady. “Didn’t she come to you too? Don’t act so surprised.”
“I’ll have to ask you to leave,” ordered the Cardinal, glowering at Mad Dog and the others.
“Ain’t this place open to all?” asked Mad Dog.
“Not tonight,” said the Cardinal. “None of this was supposed to happen.”
“I’m not making this up,” said the Grey Lady.
“What did she say?”
“She said to come here. And, no, this doesn’t mean I believe in her, but I thought I’d see for myself.”
“See what?” snapped the Cardinal.
“She said it begins here,” said the Grey Lady. “What begins?”
“I have to consult the scriptures,” he answered, grabbing his gown as he raced into the back.
“Ozymandias returns,” answered Magus with a smile.
“Can we go home?” asked Tyler.
“You thought the Cardinal would help? If it hasn’t been written down, don’t expect him to be much use.”
“You said la Reina?” asked Laurel, approaching the Grey Lady.
“He wasn’t exactly pleased it was my vision, not his,” said the Grey Lady, gesturing in the direction of the Cardinal’s departure. “But we don’t believe in visions here. Not even the Cardinal believes in them.”
“She said to come here,” said Laurel.
“La Reina?” asked the Grey Lady. “You had better not be lying. I always know when people are lying.”
“She was dressed in white,” remembered Laurel, “her hair black, and so were her eyes. She spoke words I couldn’t understand. Tyler agreed. I heard her say to find this church and Tyler dropped to the floor.”
“The Cardinal won’t be pleased at all,” said the Grey Lady with a smirk. “More of us with visions, and both of us women, no less. Unless you’re lying. People claim visions all the time, but it doesn’t make them real.”
“But you said you saw her?” asked Laurel.
“I don’t know what I saw.”
“Neither do I, but I’m here.”
“Two must become one,” explained Magus. “Once we both remember why.” Magus added, gazing at Tyler.
“Why she wants you here,” said Magus.
“He thinks he and I will become one person,” noted Tyler.
“Like the prophecy of two joining as one,” offered the Grey Lady. “But you don’t believe in prophecy either?” she asked Tyler.
“I … we … just want to go home,” said Tyler, gesturing to Laurel.
“I’ll go too,” offered Faye. “Nothing for me here.”
“I don’t know you,” said the Grey Lady.
“You don’t have to know me. I won’t be here much longer.”
“If you go,” said Bandini, “I go.”
“No,” exclaimed the Grey Lady. “This wasn’t what we agreed.”
“Agreed to what?” asked the Cardinal, reappearing.
“We promised to let them go home,” said the Grey Lady.
“Not now. Not if Russell Murdoch is Ozymandias. Only Ozymandias can determine such things.”
“We came here,” explained Tyler, unsure why it was anyone’s decision but his. “No one said we could.”
“It would have been better if they had,” said the Grey Lady. “What’s this about Ozymandias?”
“This is where Ozymandias disappeared,” explained the Cardinal, hands extended, “and this is where he shall return. And if la Reina called you here, it was to stand as witness.”
“He isn’t Ozymandias,” explained Tyler, wishing he could be a divine being but it would have been the most shameless self-aggrandizement if he played in to Magus’ fantasy.
“Then who is?” asked the Cardinal. “I don’t like it any more than you do,” he added, approaching the Grey Lady, “but we must face facts.”
“What are the facts?” she replied.
“That he is what he says he is. And that we’ve been invited here for his arrival.”
“Those sound like assumptions,” answered the Grey Lady.
“He arrives as two men,” said Magus as if quoting an ancient text. “Leaves as one.”
“We shall see,” said the Cardinal.
“We are two,” said Magus, grabbing Tyler by the arm. “Do you remember?” asked Magus.
It wasn’t Murdoch because such power turned in on itself. It had no source and no flow, just life feeding on death, and a beginning seeking out an ending.
“Remember?” asked Tyler.
“How you got here in the first place,” said Magus.
“I was running,” recalled Tyler. He remembered running away.” Where had this thought come from? Was it a memory or a trick? He wasn’t wearing the watch. There was no telling how Murdoch might have been influencing him.
“Running from what?” asked the Grey Lady. Was she examining him again?
“Am I on trial again?” asked Tyler.
“I want to understand why you’re here,” she said.
“He invited me,” said Magus.
“You wanted to come back,” explained Magus. “You always wanted to be here. But you remember what happened, don’t you?”
Tyler remembered running, and he remembered his grandmother’s house near Park LaBrea. There was a driveway, and a car. “I was seeing my grandmother. I was upset. I don’t know why. But I … I fell.”
“I dreamt about it,” said Magus. “Maybe I was nine. There was a car crossing the street, but I didn’t see it until it was in front of me. And then I woke up.”
“I was hit by a car?” asked Tyler. Laurel’s fingers curled around his arm.
“You died; for a few moments anyway. But grandma was there when it happened and she knew about this place.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“Memories are everywhere if you know where to look. Besides, it wasn’t me who brought you here that first time. It was Grandma Vi. But there was a price to pay. The worlds are supposed to be separate. Cross from one world to the other and there are always consequences.”
“Like your grandma dying in that accident three months later. It was inevitable.”
“She asked la Reina for a favor. And la Reina granted it.”
“La Reina killed her?” asked Tyler.
“It was Vi’s choice,” explained Magus.
“My Grandma Vi. Not yours.”
“You could have told me before.”
“If you didn’t remember yourself, how would you ever put the past to sleep? It’s your memory. You know I didn’t make it up. You know why I called you Ozymandias?”
Tyler waited for Magus to explain.
“Vi promised you as a gift to this world. You’d been given life from this world, which made you just as much part of this world than yours, maybe more so. It had only happened once before. And that man called himself Ozymandias.”
“He’s not Ozymandias,” insisted the Cardinal.
“But she gave him life. She has a purpose for him.”
“This is not the prophecy,” insisted the Cardinal.
“Two must become one,” said Magus, “Tyler and I. And I must give him my life. It’s what she expects of me. And I’m ready. I was ready the day he came here and I’m ready now. And you can call upon her. You can bring her here. It is prophecy that you invite Ozymandias back. It is what la Reina expects of you.
The Cardinal shook his head, puzzling over what to do.
“I have to believe you?” asked Tyler.
“No, but there are two directions this world will take. Yours or Murdoch’s? What do you choose?”
Tyler turned away. What value were his choices?
“Ozymandias is the choice you make. And it’s yours to make, not mine.
“Everyone has a choice,” asserted Tyler.
“Yes,” answered Magus, his eyes closed. “Ozymandias is everyone’s inheritance. You understand that, not Murdoch.”
“He’s here because he died,” said Laurel. “Why am I here?”
“You must remember,” said Magus. “You always wanted to understand. It’s why you studied the workings of the mind.”
“I don’t think it helped much,” answered Laurel before losing herself in reflection.
“You’ll understand when you’re ready,” Magus told Laurel before turning to Tyler. “Do you understand? Your choice means Murdoch doesn’t make it for you, or for anyone.”
Tyler did understand. If he was Ozymandias, then everyone would be Ozymandias. Not Murdoch alone.
Magus grabbed Tyler by the arm. “Grab my other arm,” asked Magus.
“What’s going to happen?” asked Tyler.
“I give you everything I have. My understanding will be yours.”
“Call her here,” yelled Magus to the Cardinal. “The prayer of healing.”
The Cardinal shook his head again. “This isn’t the prophecy.”
“Does it matter?” shouted the Grey Lady. “The prophecy is here to protect this place. Or are you going to let everything fall apart? You know what’s happening out there?”
“Two become one,” said Magus, his eyes closed. Tyler closed his eyes too.
“La Reina,” said the Cardinal. “I invoke you to heal our wounds. I invoke you to make whole what has been torn asunder. When two should be one, please make it so.”
Tyler could feel his body lift in the air. He didn’t dare open his eyes, not while the warm air held him aloft, his body light as air.