The next morning found Catori and Kane in the small dining room off the main lobby of the hotel. Jeremy, who was still on shift, brought them coffee and cold bagels as they outlined their plan.
“Our old training facility is below a field in rural Oklahoma, just outside of Tulsa. If we leave tonight, we should get there in a day or so.”
He drank some coffee as he waited for Catori to respond, but she only nodded, so he continued. “Once we’re inside, use your power to put a barrier around the main room. I’ll then cast the spell to summon Mother to us, and we can finish what we started all those decades ago. Sound good?”
“Sure, Kane. Sounds good.”
Kane leaned forward and looked her in the eyes. “Are you ok? You’ve been quiet since your awakening, which isn’t like you.”
Catori sighed as she faced him. “Kane, aren’t you tired of fighting the same battles lifetime after lifetime?”
Kane remained silent as he processed the question. “Honestly? No. We were created to fight, and not fighting goes against our nature. My personal feelings are irrelevant when all of humanity is at stake.”
“True, but think about how much it’s changed. Humanity is miles away from where it began. Surely you can see that.”
Kane shook his head. “That’s irrelevant. No matter what form humanity has taken, we must protect it. There is no other way.”
Catori went silent as Kane changed the subject. “Do you have a car?”
“Good. We’ll take that. Be ready to go by noon.”
Kane left her alone at the table, and she could tell by his posture that he was unsettled. She quietly finished her coffee and returned to her room to pack. Catori often traveled light when working a case, so there wasn’t much to do but wait. She thought about giving Sheryl a call. It was the least she could do for a woman who’s stood by her side when no one else would. She grabbed the phone from the nightstand and dialed Sheryl’s number.
“You’ve reached Sheryl, so leave your name and number at the beep, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Hey Sheryl, it’s Cat. Listen, you’ve always been a good friend to me, so I wanted to call and tell you that I won’t be coming back. That case you sent me on turned out to be bigger than we ever expected, but I don’t know how to explain it. Just know that I’m safe, and I’ll miss you. Goodbye, Sheryl. Thanks for everything.”
Catori hung up the phone and placed it on the dresser. Then, she laid on the filthy comforter and waited for noon to arrive.
The trip from Montana to Oklahoma was uneventful. Kane tried to coax some form of life out of Catori by reminiscing on past battles and the good they had accomplished, but Catori remained silent. Finally, they arrived.
The training room was a large bunker hidden beneath a cattle field. The walls and floor were solid concrete, and Catori had a rush of nostalgia as she entered the musty area.
“Wow, we haven’t been here in, what, sixty years?”
“More like seventy. Here, help me with the generator.”
They quickly unloaded the generator and hooked it up to the antiquated light system before turning it on. One or two bulbs burst from the sudden surge of power, but the remaining bulbs filled the room with a pale-yellow light. Kane turned to Catori.
Catori sighed as she found the center of the room. She took off her shoes, raised her arms, and looked to the concrete ceiling. With a deep breath, Catori used herself as a conduit as she drew energy from the universe and pushed it out of her body and into the room. It took about an hour for Catori to surround the entire structure with the protective energy, and she collapsed to the floor as the air shimmered around her.
“Nice work, Catori!” Kane praised her as he helped her to a chair. “That should keep Mother contained for sure. Now, you rest, and I’ll summon her.”
Catori watched as Kane grabbed his staff and took her place in the center of the room. His deep voice echoed as he began to chant.
“I call to the darkness, chaos, and all that came before. Send me your creator, the one who ruins all things, so that I can know her power. Send me Mother.”
Kane repeated this chant seven times before Catori realized that the lights had dimmed considerably. The air had also become colder and swirled around in random gusts. As Kane repeated his chant for the eighth time, Mother appeared before them.
She was even more beautiful in person. Her jet-black hair shone with starlight, and her violet eyes were deep and full of mischief. Her dress rippled with living shadows as she stood between them.
“Hello, Kane. Catori. It’s so good to see you again.”
Kane had assumed his defensive stance, but he gave Mother a small bow in recognition. “Hello, Mother. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but the world cannot take much more. You have to stop.”
Mother raised her eyebrows. “And, which ‘world’ would that be? The world of humans, with their imposed society and false gods; or the actual world, which I created, which is dying because of humanity’s greed? Which world, exactly, are you trying to save?”
Kane shifted uncomfortably under Mother’s reprimand, and Catori used this opportunity to grab Mother’s attention.
“Mother, you know that our duty is to humanity first and the earth second. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. Why should this lifetime be any different?”
“Because it shouldn’t have come this far,” Mother fumed. “Humans were made to take care of the planet; to cultivate her essence and protect her beauty. Instead, they imagine themselves to be above it all, raping her of her resources and killing her with their machines. I did not create this paradise for them to destroy it, so I shall destroy them.”
Kane looked appalled. “You can’t just wipe out humanity! They are important to the growth of the universe.”
Mother turned to face him. “Kane, think back to all your regenerations. After everything you’ve seen, can you honestly tell me that humanity is something other than a plague upon the world?”
Kane went silent for a moment before replying. “My feelings are irrelevant. However, I admit that, as a whole, maybe they are a plague. However, there are those who respect the planet and strive to uphold your wishes, whether they know it or not. Surely they deserve to be saved.”
“Perhaps. But humanity, as a whole, needs to be eradicated from this blessed planet before it’s too late. I propose that, for this one time in the history of our relationship, we work together to ensure the bigger, brighter future that this world should have. Can we do that?”
Kane began pacing the room, and Catori knew he was struggling with his convictions. She went to him.
“Kane, please think about it. Humanity isn’t as delicate as it was in the beginning. It’s exploded with malice and modernism, and the last three lifetimes have been increasingly difficult. You know Mother is right. We need a cleanse.”
Anguish crossed his face. “I agree that things have changed, but what happens when we turn our backs on who we are? We won’t be the same, and I can’t risk that.”
“I can. Kane, I’m tired of fighting for a corrupt system. Let’s cleanse it through chaos and start fresh. Please,” she touched his arm, “Kane, we need you.”
“She’s right, you know,” Mother added. “We could use a warrior of your caliber on our team. I’ll even assure you that one million pure humans will remain alive. That should satisfy both you and the Others. What do you say?”
Kane struggled for a moment before a look of tranquility crossed his features.
“No. I will not betray myself. I am a protector of humanity, and I will protect it until the end.”
With that, he charged at mother and tried to land a hit with his quarterstaff, but he barely made it halfway across the room when he felt something cold wrap itself around his throat. He raised a hand to it as it began to tighten, but there wasn’t anything for him to grab. Kane then turned to Catori, who had her hands in a grip-like position as she used her energy to restrain him.
“Because Mother is right, and you can’t see past yourself to the bigger picture.” She turned to Mother. “What should I do with him?”
Mother walked over to Kane and gazed into his mahogany eyes.
“If you’re determined to be against me, then I must be against you. Change your mind, Kane, or perish.”
Catori loosened her hold on Kane so he could reply, but he still refused Mother’s offer. “I can’t join you. I don’t want to become something I’m not created to be. I’m sorry.”
“Very well. Goodbye, Kane. You’ll always be in my heart.”
Mother wrapped Kane in living shadows and took control from Catori as she leaned in and opened his mouth. Catori watched in horror as a thin, blue line emerged from Kane’s mouth and entered Mother’s. Kane began to convulse as Mother ripped his immortal soul from his body and absorbed it into herself. After a couple of minutes, the line disappeared, and Kane went still.
Mother gently closed his eyes before carefully laying him on the ground. She then looked at Catori, who was sobbing in the corner as grief and guilt flowed through her. Mother sat down and wrapped Catori in her arms.
“I’m so sorry, child. I wish it hadn’t come to this, but Kane chose his fate.”
“You didn’t have to absorb his soul! You could have just killed him like you always do. Why was this so different?”
Mother stroked Catori’s hair. “Because this is the end. If our plan works, we’ll send humanity back to the stone ages so they can begin anew. Under our guidance, there would be peace, and Kane would have become the very thing he feared. This way, he can die as himself. I did him a favor.”
Mother’s dress felt cool on Catori’s face as she processed Mother’s words. Knowing Kane as she did, Catori had to admit that he would have been miserable in the new, peaceful future that they were envisioning. But that future was still a long way off, and Catori dried her eyes as she sat up and looked at Kane’s lifeless body.
“I still wish you hadn’t taken his soul, but you’re right. He would have been miserable. He was always the rigid needle that charged into battle, and I was the flexible thread that held him together. It’s strange without him at my side, but I know that it’s for the greater good.”
Mother smiled at her. “I’m glad you see things my way, Catori. Your spiritual manipulation will come in handy as we eradicate this virus on the Earth, and I’m happy to have you by my side at long last. Together, we’ll change everything.”
Catori smiled as she stood up and took Mother’s hand.
“Good. Where do we begin?”