Delilah stared in wonder as the White Whale flew her, Alice, and Adelaide through the blue portal in space. Light spun and whirled around them, a deep blue streaked with silver. The dark, starry curtain of space was left behind, and a sudden sense of speed overtook them as the lights streamed past them.
“This is so cool!” Adelaide shouted out, laughing as she tugged on her sister’s sleeve. Alice didn’t berate her sister for once, her white eyes dancing with delight, a wide smile on her face as she looked around wordlessly.
The White Whale’s song continued to sound of freedom, excitement, and adventure, and also an anxious longing. She’d been separated from her soulmate for too long. Now, finally, she was going to him.
The blue and silver lights vanished all of a sudden, and the White Whale slowed to hover in the white, endless space around them. The three girls stepped forward, peering ahead.
Before them in the empty expanse was a giant, floating door. It was silver, edged with gold, and had a massive keyhole in its center.
It was far too large for Delilah’s key, and yet…
That’s the same as the door I saw, the one they used the key on. This one is about a hundred times bigger, but…
She pulled the key on its silver chain out from under her shirt and held it forward, aiming it towards the door like a baton.
“Where’d you get that?” Alice asked, eyes flickering to black and then back to white.
“I’m not sure,” Delilah replied.
Silver light streaked from the key to the keyhole far away, accompanied by a deep, resonant ringing. For several seconds the ringing grew louder, the light grew brighter, and Delilah found herself struggling not to close her eyes against the glare.
And then, with a deep boom, the ringing and the light faded. The door shook, then swung open, and through its frame…
Yet Delilah knew that darkness. It wasn’t the black expanse of space, nor the deep, roiling blackness of the living darkness.
This was a shadowy darkness, a gloom that she’d seen in the space between the Nightmare Road and the White Whale’s prison.
“That’s where the Doomed Beast is,” Delilah said.
The White Whale cried in joy and triumph, surging forward. They passed through the door, and…
Delilah hadn’t realized all of the ambient sounds that had surrounded them up until this point. But now that they were through the door, she was struck by an utterly deafening silence. Below them, silent waters crashed against silent rocks. A silent wind tossed dark, silent grass.
Delilah took a deep, silent breath, and let it out silently.
“Where is he?”
Delilah started at the sudden question from Alice. She looked at the girl, who looked back at her.
All was silent.
“He’s…” Delilah started, and nearly jumped at the sound of her own voice. She couldn’t hear her breathing, and when she moved, her clothes didn’t make a sound. She turned, looking out across the shadowy expanse, and pointed. “There’s a pit over there, on top of the cliff. He’s inside it.”
“Why does it hurt?” Adelaide asked, covering her ears. “It’s like my ears are gonna pop out of my skull.”
Delilah didn’t feel it as harshly as Adelaide, but she understood. Their voices sounded hollow, empty, and yet oddly resonant, as if every sound in this silent realm made every fiber of her being vibrate like a bell being struck.
“Don’t be a baby,” Alice said, looking where Delilah had indicated. “So? What do we do to save him?”
Delilah stared, silent for a long time as they flew. The White Whale beneath her feet shone beautifully against the darkness, and around the girls, their Summons – Felix, Nekoma, Redmond, Reginald, and Rabanastre – each shed their own light as well. “I’m not sure,” Delilah said at length.
“Didn’t think that far ahead, huh?” Alice asked with a chuckle. “All right. Let’s go see him and figure it out as we go.” She looked up at Rabanastre, smiling. “That’s more fun anyway, right?”
Delilah didn’t think it sounded fun at all. But it certainly was interesting. Figuring out solutions to the problems that arose, as they arose, with little or no advance preparation or knowledge, was interesting, and a challenge that a part of her enjoyed.
If we succeed, then maybe I’ll say it was fun.
“It’s so far away,” Adelaide said. “Are we flying slower?”
“I don’t think so,” Alice said. “I think this place is just… bigger than it seems.”
“Like my house!” Adelaide said, a small bit of excitement returning to her.
“You have a house?” Alice asked.
“Sure do,” Adelaide said, grinning.
“But you’re a kid.”
“So are you!”
“I don’t have a house.”
“Well, I am your older sister.”
“I think, technically, I might be older than you.”
“How? You can’t! I was born first, so I’m the oldest!”
“But you were trapped in your little kid body with your little kid mind for a long time. So I might be older than you now.”
“I’m taller than you!”
“We’re the same height.”
“Because you’re greedy!”
“You’re greedy, so you were always bigger than me. I stayed small because I’m humble.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Alice flicked Adelaide in the forehead, earning a cry of pain from her sister. “Don’t argue,” she said. “We have important things to do right now.”
“I thought you only wanted to have fun,” Adelaide said.
Alice looked away, staring out towards their destination with an odd gleam in her black eyes. “This is pretty fun, don’t you think?”
“You mean it’s fun to bicker with your sister?” Adelaide asked, eyes glittering hopefully.
“I mean it’s fun to go to unknown places and see unknown things,” Alice said, rolling her eyes.
“I think it’s fun to bicker with sisters,” Delilah said. The other two girls stared at her. “I mean, maybe not in the moment. But it lets you know how close you are. Because if you weren’t very close, you wouldn’t care enough to argue with each other. It’s stupid, but eventually you both realize it’s stupid, and you give it up and just start laughing.”
“That is an awfully –” Alice started.
“Wow!” Adelaide said, staring at Delilah. “You’re like a big sister!”
Delilah blinked, staring at the girl. “I’m like…” she started.
A big sister?
…weird thing to say.
I’m the youngest of my family. What would I know of being a big sister?
“And you’re like an annoying baby sister,” Alice said, ruffling Adelaide’s hair. “We need to be thinking about what to do for the Doomed Beast, right?”
“He’s doomed to destroy,” Delilah said, staring ahead, focusing on the matter at hand. “The question is: why? And how do we change that?”
“And: why does Delilah want to change that?” Alice added, smiling slyly.
Delilah frowned slightly. “You want to change it, too,” she said. “Why?”
Alice’s smile widened. “I want to see things no one else has ever seen,” she said.
“You want to see a monster become a non-monster,” Adelaide said, smiling. “It’s like an allegory.”
“Try saying that again,” Alice said, holding up a hand with a finger held back to flick, aiming it at Adelaide’s forehead. Adelaide jumped back, covering her forehead protectively, but she was still smiling.
“Let’s save the Doomed Beast,” Adelaide said. “Together. And then, I think you’ll discover something really amazing.”
Alice pursed her lips, turning away. “What are you sounding all mature for so suddenly?” she asked.
The White Whale’s song suddenly pierced the air, just for the briefest moment before fading away. Delilah and Alice stared, wide-eyed.
“The Doomed Beast…” Delilah said softly.
“It’s about to start on its path,” Alice said.
“What path?” Adelaide asked.
“Its path of destruction,” Delilah said. “The path that’ll take it to Grimoire, and destroy the whole city.”
Alice nodded. “Even if Caleb succeeds in disarming the weapon, it’s no good if we can’t stop the Doomed Beast.”
As if coming from a great distance, the girls suddenly heard a song cry out in reply to the White Whale. Delilah shuddered, tears stinging her eyes. It was such a mournful wail, a haunted lament of despair, hopelessness, and guilt.
You don’t want to do this. You don’t want to be doomed to this.
We’ll save you. Hope is –
Delilah paused, thinking back on the same song that had inspired Shana.
The sun is rising. Dawn is nearing.
Light is coming soon, to set you free.
Delilah pulled forth her keychain Talisman, Summoning all four of her Felines. She pointed ahead, determination swelling in her heart. “Let’s go!” she cried out.
The White Whale surged forward, voicing a desperate reply. Delilah chanced a glance Alice’s way, and saw a strange look in the girl’s eyes. She smiled.
You’re a lot more than you seem.
…that we can save you, too.
The cliffs drew closer, and Delilah saw the ring of stone that marked the top of the pit that kept the Doomed Beast imprisoned. It wasn’t a permanent prison, though, or even something like the White Whale’s, which was meant to house her until her captors decided to set her free.
The Doomed Beast’s pit was a prison that let him out, temporarily, for only one purpose: destruction. When he was set free, he wandered a path of ruination across the universe.
And when his path was done, he returned to the pit, left to sing his mournful songs in isolation.
Steadily, Delilah could hear more of the Doomed Beast’s song. She could hear his pain, his loneliness, and she could feel, like a knife piercing her heart, the depth of his guilt.
He didn’t want to do this again. He loathed himself for what he had done in the past, and for what he was about to do.
He was a monster against his will, and that sundered his soul.
“There he is!” Adelaide cried out, pointing.
Up from the stone rose a massive creature. His skin was pitch black, and his eyes swirled with a million different shades of blue. Lumbering step after lumbering step, he pulled his smooth, round bulk forward. His head was out, and then half of his body, and then the rest. He stopped on the cliffside, eyes turning mournfully towards the edge, towards the raging waters below.
One foot lifted towards that edge, hesitant, hopeful.
But it turned away, moving forward, beginning to carry the Doomed Beast on his path of ruination. He sang, desperate and hopeless, longing no longer for freedom in life, but only the sweet release of death.
As long as it stopped him from his destructive destiny.
All along his body, wavering in the wind, were long black tendrils, each of them ending in many small appendages, looking rather like many-fingered hands clawing towards the sky in desperation. Clinging, grasping, for any shred of hope that could be found.
“But why does he do this?” Adelaide asked, watching in sorrow. “Why does he have to destroy so much?”
“The ‘why’ doesn’t much matter at the moment, does it?” Alice asked. “What matters is that he is.”
“Do you have any ideas?” Delilah asked softly, kneeling down to place her hand against the White Whale’s skin. The White Whale sang in reply, and Delilah accepted the multi-leveled song, understanding it and nodding in reply. She stood, looking to Alice, who smirked at her.
“Got a plan?” Alice asked.
Delilah nodded. “She’s going to take us alongside him,” she said. “And then we’re going to need to board him. She said we’ll find out what to do there. But…” She held up her key on the silver chain. “She said this will be important.”
“We’re gonna have to fight, aren’t we?” Adelaide asked. “I can’t really fight, though.”
“You can stay here,” Alice said. “Wait for us. Keep her company.”
“I’m not leaving you!” Adelaide said, glaring at her sister. “I’m coming, and you and Mister Rabbit will just have to protect me.”
“I told you, his name is Ra–”
“We can protect you,” Delilah said. Felix walked over to Adelaide and knelt in front of her, laying one of his swords across his knees. “The First Swordmeowster of the Twelfth Circle won’t leave your side. You’ll be safe with him.”
“Swordmeowster?” Alice asked, raising an incredulous eyebrow.
Adelaide, meanwhile, was hyperventilating.
“Igetmyownkittycatdefenderareyouseriousthisisthebestdayofmylifeohmygosh–” she said, going on and on like that until she had to take a breath, and then starting again, words coming so fast it was impossible to make out anything except that she was incredibly happy.
“Here we go,” Alice said, stepping to the edge of the protective bubble around them. Delilah and her Felines followed, with Adelaide taking up the rear, one hand clinging tight to Felix’s sleeve, both eyes gazing up at him adoringly.
The White Whale reached the cliffs, turning sharply and seeming to accelerate even more, coming up alongside the Doomed Beast. Despite his massive size and slow pace of his steps, the Doomed Beast was moving incredibly fast, making up for his slow steps with his utterly staggering size.
This close, Delilah couldn’t even take in his entire form, only a large stretch of his back. And along that back, she saw horrifying shapes that brought back unpleasant memories.
All along the Doomed Beast, writhing darkness roiled and swirled. The living darkness had taken hold of this beautiful creature, and it would not relinquish its hold easily.
This is way more than was at the Library, isn’t it? Way more than we fought off at the Dream Forge?
No. Stop that. The horde at the Forge was unending, and you never got to see a lot at once because of Lorelei’s ice walls. That was bigger. There were more.
This is no big deal compared to that, right?
Why am I here? Why am I the one that has to fight this? I don’t…
I couldn’t last time…
“Are we going, or not?” Alice asked. Rabanastre stood beside her, one hand around her waist, poised to leap over to the Doomed Beast.
Delilah took a deep breath and let it out. She swallowed twice.
Fixing her eyes on the vicious battle that lay before her, she screwed up her courage.
I didn’t really understand how terrible the darkness was in the Library. It was just this… thing. It was bad, but it was an obstacle to overcome. We didn’t have to go everywhere or fight everything.
This is the same kind of darkness. And this time, it’s infested a living thing.
The Doomed Beast is doomed because of this horrific evil. Beyond all the lives he’ll take against his will…
If no one fights for him, he’ll always be a slave.
Delilah looked down at the smooth, shimmering skin of the White Whale.
You chose me for this.
I don’t know why. That’s the one thing you just won’t tell me, and I don’t understand, but…
I’ll do it.
Delilah looked across at the Doomed Beast, at the writhing darkness that infested the poor, helpless creature.
The darkness that she had failed against in the Library of Solitude.
“Let’s go!” Delilah shouted. Alice and Rabanastre leapt forward first. Delilah followed immediately behind, carried by the stalwart Nekoma and agile Redmond, with Reginald leaping across beside them. And behind them came Felix, carrying Adelaide on his shoulder, as the girl screamed with delight.