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End of Act Three




End of Act Three


For a long time, Doug just laid on the cold, stone floor where he’d landed. He had no idea how he’d actually managed to survive the fall. It had been a really long way down. But since when did anything in Discord make sense, anyway?


He was disgusted to discover that the only emotion he felt upon realizing he was still alive was relief. Of course, his will to live had to wake from it’s drunken stupor now of all times. That didn’t mean that was the only thing he was feeling at the moment. In fact, Doug was feeling quite a lot of things, most of them directed squarely at a certain daemon bitch: anger, betrayal… lust? Okay, that one was getting shoved into a box and shipped to Abu Dabi to unpack at a later date. A much later date.


Which meant that he wouldn’t really have to unpack it at all, seeing as he only had a day, maybe two at most to live, tops. He had no idea when exactly Kei would come to execute him, or even how much time had passed already. But it certainly wouldn’t be long now.


Son of a fucking bitch. How could Doug have possibly been such an idiot? Okay, well, Doug was frequently an idiot, but this was pathetic even for him. Everything about Kei had been calculated from the very beginning. The use of Elizabeth’s face, the abrasive front hiding a secret, soft interior, hell, he bet she’d even lied about not knowing how to drive when they’d gotten into that fight in the car all that time ago. And he’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. Way to go, dickbrain!


Not that his dumbassery should be used in defense of anything she did. Kei had lied to him, bullied him, she’d even fucked him in order to manipulate him into doing whatever she wanted. In hindsight, her plan was pretty fucking obvious. If she wanted Malachi out, there was no way she could rally the daemons to propel her to the heights of the city. Most of them didn’t even like her. Not that there was anyone else who could have done it either. No, only the return of Bacchae himself could have made that happen. And then Doug had fallen directly into her lap.


After Malachi was gone, it was really only a matter of revealing the deception, blaming it all on Malachi—who was no longer there to deny her version of events—and then there would be no one left to run the city. No one except her.


If Doug hadn’t been so fucking caught up in his own worries he would’ve figured it out way sooner. If she hadn’t convinced him there was a genuine person behind the ten layers of stone cold bitch.


Given the option, Doug most likely would have continued to lay there until they dragged him out and hanged him. But not Doug. Never Doug. Quite without meaning to, he found himself sitting up, dusting himself off, and getting to his feet. There really was no point anymore. He was going to die whether he wandered around down here or not. Maybe he just wanted to make it a little more annoying for Kei to find him. Maybe it was because of the rock that had been digging into his back.


Yet this was not a new phenomenon. Doug could think up all the reasons he wanted, but the truth was that there simply wasn’t one. No matter how much shit he went through, Doug didn’t stop moving. Something had always driven him on. And, right now, the feeling was stronger than ever.


The labyrinth was just as patchwork as the rest of the city, at least what he could see of it. Sections of cinder-block walls melted into cobblestones melted into solid rock and back again, and it was much easier down here to see where the grafting had occurred. Every couple hundred feet there was a light source of some kind: a lantern, a candle, a torch, what have you. But that was all.


Doug had heard a lot about the Labyrinth. That it was the place where your worst nightmares became reality, that the maze shifted and changed so you got so turned around you didn’t even know which way was forward anymore, that the precious few who had ever made it out were left raving and delirious. But now it was just silent and cold and dark. Almost like it was dead.


Well, there was only one thing to do. After breathing a deep sigh that echoed down and back the long hallway, Doug started walking.


Nothing happened to him as he walked. No hallucinations, no jumpscares, just the sound of his shoes against the hard ground. He missed his Heelys. Would have made navigation a little faster, at least. He passed one or two paths splitting off from the main corridor as he kept going. But each one was narrow and dark, so Doug kept moving forward.


“Well that’s stupid,” he muttered to himself. “This isn’t a labyrinth at all. It’s a maze. Labyrinths only have one path.”


As if in direct response to his complaints, the walls suddenly shifted, blocking his path forward. Doug pressed himself against a wall, startled by the sudden movement. Okay, he guessed some of the rumors might be true, after all. He turned and ran back a couple hundred feet, and sure enough, the first split was also gone, the walls closed up as if it had never been there in the first place.


That meant there was only one way forward: the path up ahead, splitting off to the left. Well, looked like whatever was in charge down here had a sense of humor. It was dark down there, and so narrow that Doug could touch both of the rough walls without having to fully extend his arms. But he guessed he was the one who had to be a smartass and call out the incorrect grammar, so down it he must go.


That was always how it seemed to go with him. Every decision he made turned out to be the wrong one. But it was when he didn’t do anything at all that it got the worst. Whatever he did, fate just seemed intent on kicking his ass. “Targeted.” That word came back to him again.


Yet that was no excuse. Sure, some things had been out of his control. But getting in Morgan’s car? He had done that. Making that deal with Kei out of some stupid desire for revenge? That had been him too. And Jilli, just… everything to do with Jilli. If he had never gotten so close to her, had never had feelings for her, the Director might not have targeted her like she did. She might still be alive.


“That’s not true, and you know it.”


It was entirely dark now, and silent, so the sudden voice made Doug nearly jump out of his skin. But it was after the initial shock of it passed that he came upon a sudden realization. He knew that voice, would’ve recognized it anywhere. It was a voice he hasn’t heard in a long time, and never expected to hear again.


He almost didn’t dare say her name. He was so scared that saying it would make her vanish. Even if she wasn’t real, Doug hadn’t truly comprehended how much he’d missed it until now. But there was only one way to get another response.


“Jilli?” he asked the darkness, choking on the word.


“Has it really been so long that you need to ask?”


And there she was: right in front of him, so radiant she lit up the dark. Her eyes were bright, and her rainbow hair blew gently around her. Of course it wasn’t really her. Jilli Nakajima was dead. The hole clean through her chest proved that much. But Conscience was speaking, looking at him with living eyes. And that was all he ever could have wished for.


“You’re the one who kept me waiting.” He hugged her, squeezed her as tightly as he could, knowing that she could disappear at any moment. “I’m so, so sorry, Jill,” his voice shook pathetically as the waterfall of words poured out of his mouth unhindered. “For everything. It was all my fault. If… if I hadn’t…”


“Doug,” she said quietly, then, when he kept babbling anyway: “Doug! God, lemme get a word in.”


She giggled, and loathe as he was to do so, Doug pulled away, though he refused to let go of her hands. “But there’s so much I need to apologize for…”


“Here’s a day I never thought I’d see. Doug Bailey being an honest, genuine human being.”


“Aw, shut up.”


“I know you’re not going to believe me when I say this,” she sighed, “but you’ve got nothing to be sorry about.”


“But you’re… you’re dead.”


“And are you the one who ripped my heart out? Or the freak who made him do it?”


“Well, no… But—”


“Then as far as I’m concerned, any guilt on your part died with Abigail Hodge.”


“Aren’t you supposed to tell me that revenge is bad and never the answer?”


“Sure, but it isn’t like the bitch didn’t have it coming.”


Doug wanted to look down in embarrassment or whatever. He wasn’t always great at the whole eye contact thing. But he didn’t dare look away. “Okay,” he said, “Still, there’s one thing I want to apologize for.”


“Alright, then hit me with it.”


He took a deep breath. He’d run through this conversation in his head so many times, believing that he’d never get to actually say it. Now that she was in front of him, he just knew that he was gonna fuck it up.


“I wasn’t there for you,” he said. “Not like I should have been. I know we weren’t ever, you know, really anything, but I really… I really cared about you. I was just so caught up in my own bullshit.”


“‘Your own bullshit’ was getting repeatedly tortured by an insane biologist.”


“That doesn’t matter,” he insisted. “I should’ve still tried. So… I’m sorry.”


“I still don’t think you really need to, but alright, fine, apology accepted.”


Doug ran a hand through his hair. “Worst part is that I know you’re not really her. You’re just a dumb part of my damaged brain that insists you’re her. But I guess that’s the best I can hope for, huh?”


“Wait. You don’t really believe that, do you?” she seemed surprised.


“Believe what?”


“After all this time, everything we’ve done and known, that we’re just all in your head?”


Contrary to popular belief, Doug wasn’t stupid. He just often ignored very obvious things when it was convenient for him, especially when putting those little things together would make an unfortunate truth blatantly obvious. Of course he’d always found it odd how persistent they were. And of course it didn’t add up that they seemed to know much more about his current predicament than he did. Doug had just been trying not to think about it. Because if he did, that opened a whole steamer-trunk full of oddities that he had a sneaking suspicion fit together in a very certain way.


He didn’t need to tell her all of this. She already knew all about it. So he just sighed and said. “No. Not really.”


“And do you know what we actually are, then?”


Doug shook his head. “That part I’m still confused about. But I’m pretty sure I know why you’re all here. And if you’re talking to me right now then… then it really is the end, isn’t it?”


“You’ve been running for so long. Haven’t you ever wondered what you were running towards?”


“Well, I kind of assumed I was running from a host of very specific somethings, but you know what that kinda makes sense.”


“I’m really here to take you to him.”


“I know.”


She grabbed his hand tightly, and slowly, she led him into the darkness beyond.


“Well, hey,” Doug smiled lamely. “At least he had the courtesy to send someone pretty. If he’s trying to butter me up then I appreciate the gesture.”


Conscience giggled. “I don’t think he’d have it any other way.”


They wandered for what could have been a few minutes or a few hours, Conscience a constant glow next to him. She didn’t even really need to, as there was no way to get lost anymore. As per Doug’s complaint, the Labyrinth only had one path now. A path that wandered is way towards the very center.


“Finally, took you long enough.” They turned a corner, only to see Cocaine and Cancer waiting for them.


“Aww, come on. I was kinda having a moment here, and now you two gotta come along and ruin it, huh?”


“Well, we wanted to say goodbye too,” Cancer pouted. “If you think we’d miss it then you’re sadly mistaken.”


“Hey, so why aren’t you two being all, ya know, creepy and stuff? Conscience for that matter too. Aren’t’cha breaking character a little bit?”


Cocaine shrugged. “Our job is done, so there’s no point to it anymore.”


“And what exactly was that job, if you don’t mind me asking.”


“That’s a pretty complicated question. We weren’t lying about that,” Cancer admitted. “It’s probably best if he explains it himself.”


“He’ll get pissed if we keep going at this rate, anyway,” Cocaine started walking, and gestured for Doug to follow. Cancer followed after her, and Doug, still with Conscience at his side, went last.


He was grateful for her presence and her touch, even if he couldn’t feel her warmth. Doug had been hoping to procrastinate longer by asking them questions, but the three were far too familiar with his bullshit to fall for it. In some way, they were a part of him, after all. He was still pretty sure about that.


As they continued walking forward through the dark, Doug developed a sinking feeling as he became more and more sure about who “he” was. That was another thing he’d deliberately avoided thinking about. But there was no point in trying to deny it any longer. Like he himself had said, Doug already knew exactly who he was.


Somewhere deep down inside, he also understood that when they finally did meet, Doug wasn’t going to make it out of the encounter, at least not the way he’d entered it.


Yet, there was still one last thing Doug could do, one last little stubborn act of defiance he could perform. He was going to make the bastard spell all of it out word by word. So at the very least Doug could, for once, have all the mysteries cleared up. After that, well, he wasn’t sure what would happen, and he didn’t particularly want to think about the answer.


He had no idea how long they’d been walking before Doug saw a small light ahead of them. It was very dim, and tinged slightly green.


“Well, this is it,” Conscience whispered, as they paused on the threshold of the chamber in front of them.


“Right…” he finally managed, and then, after collecting himself: “Well, I can’t really say it was a pleasure knowin’ ya.”


Cancer took a step towards him. “You were very fun to torment, Mr. Bailey,” she grinned. “It was fun.” Slowly, her smile lingering just a little, she began to disappear.


“And hey,” Cocaine added. “All things considered, you coulda’ been a much worse guy.”


“Uh, thanks?” was all he could get out, before she was gone too.


“Doug…” Conscience squeezed his hand tightly and turned to look at him. “I may not be the real Jilli Nakajima, but I think I can say with confidence what she would have wanted to. So… thank you, Doug. Thank you for everything.”


His throat caught. If it hadn’t, he could have said everything he wanted to. How she was wrong, how she’d been the one who’d done everything for him, and how he’d failed her, and how she was so… so—


But it was too late. Doug’s hand gripped empty air. And he was alone.


All that was left to do was keep walking forward, where that sickly light awaited him. And so that’s exactly what he did.


It almost felt like he’d entered the heart of some alien spaceship. Though still made of the same stone textures Doug had grown accustomed to, the walls were constantly shifting in rolling patterns, changing height and size and direction. Agitation was the word that came to mind, the impatience of the very room itself hit him like a truck.


It was hard to pinpoint the exact origin of that green light. It almost seemed like it was simply emanating from the very room itself. But after a few seconds of observation, Doug settled on the vague direction of “up”. It seemed to be a little more concentrated up there. He didn’t know why, but he felt like there was some sort of intelligence at its center, and with a sinking feeling, he found he knew exactly who it was.


It was hard not to, when met with that same, terrifying gaze that Doug himself had now given to others so many times.


“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he finally managed to unstick his throat.


“Ah, don’t worry about it,” came a reply that seemed to originate more from Doug’s own skull than from anywhere else, “it’s only been literal years.”


Doug couldn’t help but shiver. Now he finally understood what Jack had been talking about, and why everyone else had been so afraid of him. There was something terrifying inside that light, something with unlimited, boundless anger.


“Well, it wasn’t like I was given much direction.” Doug desperately hoped his bravado was working.


“Hey, I did what I could. I sent three lovely ladies to help you, and let’s be honest, it I’d just told you what you were s’possed to do, you would have done the exact opposite just to spite me.”


“You’re not wrong, but hold on,” Doug frowned. “If ‘helping’ was what those harpies were supposed to be doing, then they kinda sucked at it. All they did was drive me crazy.”


“Yeah. Helping.”


Alright, that was it. Doug was sick of everyone in his life being obtuse, and talking at him like he should know everything already. He opened his mouth to really give him a piece of his mind, but didn’t manage to get anything out at all.


Because the room started laughing. The very walls rippled and shook as the voice in his head sent shockwaves through his skull. Even the light above his head bobbed slightly.


“I wish you could see the look on your face,” the light struggled in between fits. “You look so fucking pissed. It’s hysterical.”


“I don’t care if you’re a king or a god or whatever,” Doug shot back. “I am sick and tired of getting jerked around.”


“Same here, friend.”


“See, that’s exactly what I mean! You clearly know more than me, so spill the goddamn beans, you useless fucking bastard!”


The walls bristled, and for a second Doug was very scared that he’d gone too far.


But all he heard was a long, drawn-out sigh. “Uggghhh, I don’t want to,” the light groaned. “Can’t you just die like a good little clown?”


“No.”


There was silence for a good solid minute. Doug crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.


“Alright, alright, fine. How much do you think you know?”


“Not fucking much,” Doug muttered. “All I know is that somehow, in some weird-ass, messed-up kinda way, we’re the same guy.”


“Yeah, see, you already went and fucked it up. We are not the same. You, kid, are an inferior version of me.”


“Care to explain?”


“Not really.”


Doug stared upwards.


“God you’re pushy. A stupidly long time ago, for reasons that I’m too lazy to go into and you wouldn’t care about anyway, I got split in half. What you’re hearing right now is what’s left of my absolutely peachy personality. My body went off in its own direction, spawned a soul and here you are. The little shitheel that’s been running around in it for too long now.”


“Uh, what?” Doug blinked several times. “I was expecting like, reincarnation or something what the fuck?”


“Yeah, listen, don’t think about it too hard, it’ll blow your tiny mortal brain to little bits. Long story short, I’ve got some enemies, and I used you to hide from ‘em. But now, the bastard must be gone again, because fate brought you crawling right back to me, just like it was supposed to. Like it or not, your entire life, you’ve been moving in a straight fucking line right to me.”


“It sounds really simple when you put it like that. But I’m not just some meat suit for you to stick back on, you know. I’m a real boy, dipshit, and I’ve lived a real goddamn life.”


“And what do you think that tiny, pathetic life has been leading up to, huh?” The voice in his head was suddenly very quiet, and the walls were very still.


Doug didn’t like where this was going. “What are you talking about?”


“Haven’t you ever felt like the world has a vendetta specifically against you? Like it was doing everything in its power to drive you up the wall?”


“Every single day.”


“That’s because you’re a part of me. And if there’s one thing in the entire cosmos that I am, it’s batshit.”


Doug wasn’t quite sure he understood, but maybe that was him trying not to again.


“Everything that’s happened to you was by design, by some sort of a grand plan. I even sent those little ladies to help speed of the process of breaking you. If you were sane, do you think you’d even be able to hear me right now?”


“So what you’re saying is… is that I never really had a chance.”


“All that whining and complaining about ‘what if I made different choices?’ ‘What if I hadn’t been so stupid?’ ‘What if I hadn’t gotten in that car?’ Pointless, useless, annoying as fuck. Even if you hadn’t done any of that, causality would have found another way to make you just like me. From what I can tell, it almost did. Face it, kid: your entire struggle hasn’t had a fucking point.”


The voice had to pause in the middle of its rant, however. Doug wasn’t sure how it had been expecting him to react, but it must have not been what he did. Because Doug started laughing, long and hard. He himself didn’t even know why he was doing it. He didn’t think anything about this was particularly funny at all.


“Sorry, I just… it just… that makes so much sense. Everything I went through, all the suffering that I… and every fucking person around me had to go through. All of it was just… meaningless, huh? Because I just so happened to be the unlucky son of a bitch with the shittiest destiny imaginable.”


“That’s right.”


“I struggled, you know? I tried for so hard for such a long time, thinking that there was just… no way it could get any worse. That if I kept going, maybe life would eventually lay off and I could… I could be okay. But it never did. It never got better. It just kept getting harder and harder, and after all of that, it has to end like this, huh? With my entire life just… a comma in the middle of yours?”


“Bet you’re feeling pretty stupid right about now.”


“I’m just… I’m just tired, man. I’ve always felt like… like something was expected of me, like I was waiting for something to happen, and that-that thing, it turns out, is that I’m supposed to go crazy and die.”


“I hate to break it to ya, pal. That’s not just you. That’s everybody’s life. But hey, think of it this way. Even if it was all pathetic and pointless, you put on a helluva good show, and in the end, that’s the only thing that really matters.”


“What the fuck are you talking about?”


“Metaphors! Metaphors, Doug! Like it or not, a lot of people know you now. They know who you are and what’s you’ve done, or what they think you’ve done, and I doubt they’re going to forget about the exploits of Doug Bailey, Fuck-up Supreme, anytime soon. You were the saddest fucking clown they could have gotten, but at least you got up on the stage at all. A lot of folks never get the chance.”


Was the voice trying to be philosophical? If so, his circus—theater?—metaphors? Whatever they were, they were pretty dumb. But Doug thought he understood what he might be trying to say. In a way, he was right: causality had turned Doug into quite a character, though he didn’t necessarily know if that was a good thing or not.


“If that was your attempt at consoling me, it was pretty lame,” Doug said finally.


“Listen, your pathetic little human emotions are what’s really lame. Now are you gonna give me my body back, or what?”


“What happens if I refuse.”


“Huh?”


“The way I see it, you need me to agree, right? If you could just snatch this body back from me any time you wanted, I’d already be dead.”


There was a pause, and the walls did something very odd. A small section pressed outward in a column, and waved through the whole room that way, first to the right, then to the left, almost like someone was pacing behind it.


“Okay, fine, you caught me. Technically speaking, you’ve got all the power here. You need to agree to let me back in. But the way I see it, you ain’t got much of a choice.”


“The hell I don’t.”


“God, you’re so pathetic! Just-just shut up and listen to me. That little bitch that brought you to me, she’s got you in a pretty rough spot. Regardless of what ya do, in less than twenty-four hours, she’s gonna grab you and string you up for the whole fucking city to see.”


“Believe me, you don’t have to remind me.”


“But! You’ve got another option. One that she doesn’t know about. You let me in, and I can make damn sure that she gets exactly what’s coming to her.”


“What does it really matter? I die either way, right? Maybe I should just leave you down here to rot. Maybe it’s high time that you got what’s coming to you?”


“You’re wrong about that.”


“Sorry, what?”


“If you let that lying acrobat take you out of here alive, then you just die, plain and simple. But if you deal with me instead, well, you’re part of me. Your consciousness will be entirely destroyed, sure, but as some old prick once told me: ‘once a vase is broken, it’ll always be made out of pieces.’”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Beats the shit out of me. I guess in the end, it just comes down to who you hate more: me, or her?”


Doug stayed silent for quite a while. After everything he’d been through in his short, worthless life, he got one consolation prize: he got to choose who to take down with him. So who deserved it more? The voice in his head, and by extension fate itself, that force that had impartially brought despair into his every waking moment? Or that bitch who lied, manipulated, and cheated her way into his brain, only to destroy him at the first opportunity?


If he was anyone else, maybe he would have thought about the bigger picture, but if there’s one thing Doug was, above all else, it was petty. And besides, this way, somehow, maybe he might actually be around to see the show.


“Alright then,” he said finally. “Maybe it’s my time to get off the stage, huh? But if I agree to your terms, I need you to promise me one thing.”


“What’s that?”


“If all I am is a warm-up act for you, then you better put on one hell of a performance.”


For a few seconds, all the voice did was simply laugh, long and hard and not a little bitter. “Oh, I assure you,” that low tone vibrated Doug’s skull. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


“Then shake on it,” Doug grinned. Goodbye to the world, goodbye to everyone who was still alive. This was it for him. The twisting, impossible road he’d been walking down had finally ended right here, exactly where it was always supposed to.


Doug held out his left hand…


...And Bacchae took it.

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