18. The Aftermath
The bright green glare faded as quickly as it came. Joe, who had shielded his eyes, lowered his arms and frantically swung his head back and forth to take in the aftermath. The lair was surprisingly still intact. Joe had expected a large explosion that would destroy everything in its path, but other than a few objects getting blown back, there was no sign of the disastrous event that had just occurred. The event that had killed Mad Jack and Sydney.
Joe cupped his hands around his mouth. "Sydney!" he called out, knowing it was pointless, but he clung to a thread of hope that she would respond. Maybe she would just walk around a corner with that rebellious smirk of hers, laughing at how freaked out Joe was, and everything would be okay.
But there was no response. Sydney didn't appear around a corner. Joe was alone.
He let out a shaky breath and his eyes stung from tears he refused to shed. This was his fault. This was entirely his fault. He should have come up with another plan. He should have forced Sydney to stay. He shouldn't have let Sydney distract him with that kiss.
The kiss. Joe's face flushed from the memory, how warm Sydney's body felt pressed against him, how soft her lips were, how right it all felt. He quickly shook his head to clear it. He couldn't think of that right now, no matter how much he wanted to. He had to get out of here. This wasn't over yet. He would find Nicole and Kayla and they would have some way to make this right. It couldn't end like this. He would make sure of it.
He hastily flipped through the pages of The Book, nearly tearing them out in the process. Would the transporter page even take him to Draylon? He crossed his fingers and prayed that it would. Though he had a feeling his recent warps with The Book had only been successful because Sydney was with him. Even so, he entered in his destination and was quickly pulled away by the green mist.
It took Joe three tries to successfully warp to Draylon. Luckily, his mis-warps hadn't taken him anywhere dangerous and The Book seemed just as determined as he was to get back to Draylon, because it had stayed with him the entire time. Either this place was difficult to get to or Joe was even worse at using The Book when he was distressed. He didn't think on it for too long. He had to find Nicole and Kayla.
Joe landed on the dock at the lake, almost falling into it. He regained his balance and noticed where he was. Instantly, the memory of the night he and Sydney had spent out here threatened to replay in Joe's mind. It was one of the last great moments they had together. They were both happy and carefree, unaware of what laid before them. Had Joe known then that Sydney would have died, he would have made the moment last longer. He pushed those thoughts away. Sydney wasn't gone. She could still be saved if he got to Nicole and Kayla in time. They would have more amazing moments together soon.
Joe forced his legs into action. He rushed into the castle and searched every hallway until he found the correct one that would lead him to one of the training rooms they had been using. Praying that Kayla and Nicole would be in there, Joe pushed onward.
"They'll be there, and everything will be okay," he mumbled to himself as he bolted down the hallway and into the training room. He wouldn't allow himself to have any negative thoughts. He couldn't afford to. He ignored the logical part of him that was saying all this was pointless, and held onto the small amount of hope that burned within him.
The training room was despairingly empty. Joe groaned. Where could they be? Joe and Sydney had been gone for a long time, so Nicole and Kayla probably gave up on waiting for them to show up to training for the day. They would have gone out to find them. Could they be waiting in their suite?
Joe spun around and left the room, heading toward the suite he and Sydney had been sharing the past week. He wouldn't give up until he found them. They were Sydney's only hope. The hallways and banners blurred as he ran past them. Joe didn't even think about what he was doing or where he was going, he just needed to do it.
By the time Joe got to the suite, he was out of breath. He wouldn't be able to run again without taking a break to breathe and calm his heart rate, but he didn't have any time to waste. The pain in his arm was starting to flare up again. The adrenaline rush from his search was fading. His arm wasn't broken like Joe originally thought, but it was at least fractured. The bleeding had stopped, but his shirt sleeve was soaked through and the rest of his arm didn't look any better. Running around without staunching the wound had not been his best idea. He would need medical attention soon. Nicole and Kayla had to be in here. Joe threw open the door.
It crashed into the wall with a powerful bang and Joe was greeted with the startled faces of Nicole and Kayla. Joe had never felt so relieved in his life. "I need your help!" He spoke so quickly he wasn't even sure they heard him correctly. He paused to take a deep breath and tried again. "I need your help. Sydney needs your help!"
"What is the matter?" Nicole crossed her arms and glared at Joe. She tapped her foot impatiently. "And where have you been? We've have been waiting around all morning for you to show up so we could properly punish you for missing training. You better have a good excuse. And why are you alone? Where is Sydney?"
"Sydney's dead," Joe spat out. The words hurt, and he winced as he said them, saying them made it real, but Nicole and Kayla needed to understand how dire the situation was.
They stiffened and exchanged confused expressions. "Joseph... perhaps we didn't make this clear, but gods of immortal. They cannot die. That includes Sydney."
Joe rapidly shook his head. "No, you don't understand. She had no choice but to sacrifice herself, and then she... she..." Joe took a deep breath and explained everything that had happened today. He tried to remain calm and collected as he spoke, but it was easier said than done. He told them how Mad Jack had forced them into his lair with the time bomb, the fight that had ensued, and finished with Sydney's sacrifice. He left out the part about the kiss. That part felt private. It was a special moment he knew Sydney wouldn't want him to share with anyone. "Please, there has to be something you can do to bring her back."
Kayla and Nicole stared at Joe with wide eyes, slowly processing what he had just told them. "I wish there was something, but unfortunately, there is nothing we can do. Death is permanent."
"Nothing you can do? What do you mean there's nothing you can do?" Joe probably shouldn't be yelling at two goddesses, but he didn't care. Sydney had died, and they weren't going to do anything about it?
"I'm sorry, Joseph. Trust me, you are not the only one hurting here." Nicole frowned, but her eyes remained sharp. Joe questioned how saddened by her daughter's death she really was. If he had to guess, he'd say not really. Nothing about Nicole seemed emotional.
"You can't go back into the past and prevent her from ditching training? Or rewind time? You can't just let her die like that!" Joe turned to Kayla, maybe she would be more helpful. She was not as apathetic as Nicole.
Much to Joe's dismay, Kayla somberly shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Like we've told you before. Draylon exists only in the present. You cannot go to the past or future of this place, and the way you described the lair where you fought sounds like a time pocket. Like Draylon, those only exist in the present."
"And as for rewinding time," Nicole continued, maintaining the disapproving frown aimed at Joe, "that is impossible as well. Time moves in one direction, forward. While it is possible to pick yourself up and go back and forth across time, time itself cannot be reversed in any way. I'm sorry, but as we've said, there is nothing we can do. If there was, we would do it without a second thought, and this whole scenario would be resolved by now."
"But, but..." Joe stared at them in shock. His head snapped back and forth between the two of them. He felt like they weren't trying to save Sydney at all. He had been so sure that they would help and Sydney would come back. He hadn't even entertained the idea that it would go the other way. He couldn't believe that his friend was gone for good. "You can't think of one thing to do?"
They shook their heads in response. "No. I hate to say it, but Sydney is not coming back."
Joe buried his head in his hands and finally allowed his tears to fall. His shoulders shook as he cried. This wasn't right. He knew in his heart, that Sydney was not supposed to die. And yet she had. His arm throbbed, but he didn't care. He didn't have the right to be alive when Sydney had just died to save him.
"We can take you to the infirmary if you'd like," Kayla offered. Her voice was soothing, and unlike Nicole's, held a hint of sadness. "Our healers are some of the best in the space-time continuum. Your arm can be healed in no time. You'll be back with your family before you know it."
Back to his family. Joe's adventure was officially at a close. Soon, he'd be back home, and it would be like nothing ever happened. Except that Joe would know something had happened. These memories would not fade easily, if ever. He took a deep breath, wiped away his tears, and reluctantly nodded. It was time for Joe to go home.
The House of Rock was exactly the same as when Joe left it. Sydney and Joe's drinks were resting on the bar top. The ice hadn't even melted yet. There were a few people still mingling and leaving from the concert as well. It had been nearly a week, but Nicole and Kayla decided it would be best to send Joe back to his present time. It was an odd sensation to be back.
He took in his surroundings in disbelief. Only six days had come and gone since he took Sydney to Corfu. He never would have thought his life could change so much in such a short amount of time. He still had trouble believing it. His mind went over everything that had happened. He discovered a whole new dimension, learned that time gods were real, and became friends with one of them.
Joe sniffled and blinked away the tears that threatened to fall. He would be okay. It would take a lot of time, but he would be okay eventually. He would always remember Sydney, and maybe one day there would be a way to bring her back. It was foolish thing to hope for, but Joe couldn't help himself. Sydney had sacrificed her own life to save him. She didn't deserve to die. The least Joe could do was hope for a way to give Sydney her life back and repay her. It was a heavy and deadly debt to have, but he chose to bear it. His adventure may have been over, but it would not be forgotten.