What struck him about Culver St. was that everyone seemed to have a garage, and that every garage actually housed the cars that had been intended for them. It was unusual to encounter that, especially on such a scale, an entire street. It bothered Cotton, like it was unnatural. It also helped explain, to a certain extent, the phenomenon that was Tekamthi’s portal in the shed. It just wasn’t that out of place, and couldn’t have been coincidental. Yes, Tekamthi had been a clever one. Strange, too, that he was now in the past tense, strange that anything could exist in the past tense, not so much gone as now living in an altered state, the kind that had been the motivating factor in the original birth of the Eidolon. Cotton now suspected that everything man achieved was motivated by trying to compensate for altered states, one way or another. There was no such thing as normal, unless normal was to be construed as a series of abnormalities. In that case, a grown man who still dressed up in a costume was not so outrageous, pretending he was something other than what he really was, pretending he was a ghost.
Except Cotton was exactly that, a ghost. It was not pretension. He was not really there. It was not a psychological pretension, but a constant state of mind, the only way he could keep the Eidolon alive, as would soon be the case again. Cotton wasn’t really there; he would once again assume mastery over perception, for that was what a hero did, impose a view of reality that said what everyone else presumed to be perfectly acceptable, actually wasn’t, what seemed to be perfectly natural, wasn’t. The Eidolon meant to set straight mistakes, draw them out and correct them, while bending the rules of possibility. That was were the super heroic came from, because he went beyond the realm of ordinary possibility, not with power but with pure force of will, his own volition, determination, and skill.
His greatest skill was misdirection, the ability to confuse perception. His archenemy had decided that this was actually Cotton’s weakness, and had in his outing cast aside the importance of it, become its opposite force. Tekamthi, on Culver St, had in a way validated this edict of Cotton’s, misdirection, with the shed, and as he made his way down he found comfort with every step. There were no dogs on this street, which was another thing he found odd, as if every sign of life had been hidden away, like Tekamthi himself. How careful had he been? Had he gone too far? There was almost no risk at all, and that disturbed Cotton most of all. He had found himself living for the challenge, and that most of all had finally convinced him to reclaim the mantle of the Eidolon, which presently sat inside a plastic bag, which he struggled to carry, awkward and heavy as it was. He would shift it, in intervals of minutes, the periodic rate of it almost embarrassing, the frequency of it. Did he possess no strength? And he was a hero? Had he lost that strength, or ever had it?
The shed loomed. It became apparent that the shed had been breached, not in any ordinary way or even an obvious way, but in an unspoken sort of way, like an aura that penetrated it. Cotton could not help but notice; the sensation was all around him, the closer he got, like the shed had been violated and its wound were still fresh. This had not been someone who had know it, but rather a stranger, an intruder. An interloper. They had discovered its secret, which Cotton could still not quite grasp that he knew so easily, without having to be told. Balthazar had somehow bequeathed Cotton his memories, even before his passing. They had become a part of Cotton, even before they left Balthazar. As they left their original owner, and the owner felt them slip away, Cotton could not understand. They were still very much present for him, even more so, almost as if they should be, or had always been, and he just hadn’t known it, or realized it. Balthazar’s death had been a revelation, one he still needed to understand.
The door to the shed was breached, and placing his hand on it Cotton immediately jerked it away again, as in shock. The interloper had left his mark. There was also another presence. There always seemed to be, these days. Nothing was truly alone anymore, like it was all sending Cotton a message he could not help but learn, at last. He did have to be alone. He almost didn’t have a choice in the matter. Inside he noticed an old gardener’s bench, warn down not just by time but by use. Whomever had originally erected this shed, they had tended to their garden constantly, obsessively. Tekamthi tended to his own garden in the same way. Cotton his own, too. Everyone seemed to have their own garden.
By instinct again, Cotton found access to the secret passage, and found his way into the dark tunnel that had so alarmed Balthazar. Cotton produced a light on his keychain, and it helped him navigate his way, his fear. Outside, no one would notice this, no one curious. He could have left the passage unobscured, but he was not that careless. He could never allow himself to be, consciously. Except he knew had had been, in the past. It was what had created his archenemy, almost initiated the demise of the Eidolon. Instead, the hero within him had taken to hibernation. The thought of it was not a pleasant one. Wasn’t a hero supposed to be selfless? What part of the Eidolon had ever been?
In the almost complete darkness, Cotton could not help but reflect, and that may have been by Tekamthi’s design as well. If there was ever to be an invader to his fortress, they would not invade unscathed. Perhaps there had been others, and they had been repelled by this very defense. The interloper still left his mark, everywhere. Cotton could not properly observe them, but he knew there must be walls, and that these walls had known the interloper, who groped them in his own darkness, his despair. The passage continued for what seemed an eternity.
Finally, he knew he had reached the end, and the second presence was there with him. He reached for the light switch, reconsidered it, knowing the mystery would be revealed.. He called out first instead. “I know you are there.”
He didn’t need the light, or a reply, to know who it was waiting for him: Godsend. Revealed, his costume blinded more than the light, the sheen on the purple and gold preternaturally emboldened, which was of course by design, and perhaps unconsciously so. The second half of the Terrific Tandem, a relic of the past that perhaps, too, needed resurrecting continued to stand there in silence, as if expecting only Cotton to speak, as if Cotton alone needed to explain himself. How had Godsend known as Tekamthi’s lair? How had Godsend known of Tekamthi at all? How much had Cotton never truly known of his complimenting force?
“There is much to talk about,” he said. “Isn’t there?”
“There always seems to be,” Godsend said. “With you, that’s all there seems to be. I remember a time when you spent your time in silence.”
“A position you seemed to have assumed for yourself,” Cotton said.
“Every void is filled,” Godsend said. “Perhaps you hadn’t realized that.”
“You replaced me?” Cotton said.
“Don’t take everything so literally,” Godsend said. “The Tandem could never be replaced. I’m surprised you would make the suggestion.”
“I apologize for that,” Cotton said. “I have much to apologize for, don’t I?”
“Do not trouble yourself,” Godsend said.
“That’s what I’ve been doing, all my life,” Cotton said. “You didn’t come here by chance. And you’re not the first ghost of my past to find me today.”
“You could only avoid him for so long, Cotton,” Godsend said. “Did you really think you could avoid him indefinitely? He is your responsibility. I came here because of a different responsibility. You remember Rancor, of course. This war we face is because he is no longer alive. He maintained the balance within Traverse, even when he wasn’t here. His reputation, his activities, his battles with us, all this deterred the rest of the element from this war. Without this figurehead, the element deteriorated. Who could have ever seen that coming? Your friend. Viper.”
“I suppose that makes this my fault,” Cotton said.
“You should have seen this coming,” Godsend said. “Didn’t you tell me that the rest of us were overlooking the obvious? The obvious is what keeps the rest in check. You misinterpreted it, Cotton. We do not blame you, but we do wish you would reclaim your responsibility.”
“No such friendly embrace here,” Cotton said.
“Do not make light of the situation,” Godsend said.
“Says the man who waited in darkness,” Cotton said. “How long did you wait? How did you even know to come here? How did you even know this place existed?”
“Your resource at Humbert Savings,” Godsend said. “She only recently discovered this street’s secret. She knew what to do with her newfound knowledge. She doesn’t know what else to do. Another victim of your folly, Cotton. You haven’t been very careful. Isn’t that what you have always prided yourself on?”
“Since when did you adopt an attitude?” Cotton said.
“Since you forced me to,” Godsend said. “You changed the whole landscape. Congratulations. It may be your lasting achievement.”
“I was like that all along,” Cotton said. “Nothing changed.”
“Everything changed,” Godsend said. “Everything changed because you allowed it to. Everything became worse. You let everything corrupt.”
“Even you?” Cotton said.
“I fight the same battle,” Godsend said. “It never ends. You have actually made sure of it, haven’t you?”
“Tell me what I need to do,” Cotton said.
“You already know,” Godsend said, levitating and flying back down the passage, leaving Cotton alone, Cotton, who realized he still clung to the bag with the costume in it. He needed to put it on again, the costume he had worn only once before, the first time he had become the Eidolon.
Which wasn’t even true. He had become the Eidolon that day in Stonewine Alley, the day he saved Denny Hay, the day he lost himself. He liked to think that he had finally found himself again, that all the years he had obscured himself, even to himself, were finally in the past. But he was still fighting that past.
Later, when he had transformed himself again, Cotton noticed as he made his ascent the red cap that had been discarded by the interloper. The cycle continued.