Minnie stared over the edge of the abyss and the abyss stared back at her. It was an open question which of the two would blink first.
“You’ve come this far. You’re not going to stop now are you?” the Man in White asked her.
Minnie had followed the Man in White farther than she could have imagined. She’d tracked him through lost lands, hunted him across portals into dimensions of madness and even thrown herself into a gateway to utter destruction, all for the best of reasons. She had a friend to save.
“What have you done with her?” she asked. She looked around for any sign of Nell, the girl that she’d traveled an uncountable distance to rescue.
“With who?” the Man in White asked.
“Nell. The girl you kidnapped.” Minnie said. She was in her human form, holding back her strength and other powers because she knew they wouldn’t help her. Not against someone with the powers the Man in White had displayed.
“I haven’t kidnapped anyone.” the Man in White said. “Everyone who travels with me, does so willingly. Like you did.”
“I’m not traveling with you.” Minnie said and paced around the man. Ripping into him might not accomplish anything but the urge to try was rising in her regardless.
“And yet here we are. At the end of all things.” the Man in White said. “You can sense it can’t you? This little space, a razer of existence surrounded by an empty, meaningless, endless expanse of nothingness.”
“All I sense is that you’re out of places to run away to.” Minnie said.
“I’m not alone in that either.” the Man in White said. “Wherever you go, this is waiting for you.”
The man gestured to the empty sky above them and to the featureless ground that was swallowed in shadows below them.
The portal they’d come through had been called “The Annihilator” by the creatures that controlled it. Minnie understood why. Stepping through it had been an irrevocable choice. The Annihilator was more than happy to pull someone in and deposit them on the edge of Oblivion but there was no passage back through it to the lands of reality.
The Annihilator had been an unfathomable swirl of darkness on the side that faced reality. On the side that faced Oblivion, Minnie saw it radiating a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors. In that light, she saw rainbows playing out to a cliff that dropped off into the engulfing darkness below. Oblivion didn’t just lay below the cliff though. It was everywhere that she looked.
“You think we’ve traveled far, that we’re some impossible distance removed from your home, don’t you?” the Man in White asked.
“Not an impossible distance. I found you after all. But you did run for a long time. Where did you put Nell?” Minnie asked.
“I haven’t put her anywhere. There is no Nell.” the Man in White said.
“What have you done to my friend?” Minnie said. Her body started to change on its own in response to the anger that was stirring in her heart.
“Can you do something to someone who never existed?” the Man in White asked.
“She existed to me.” Minnie said and tried to grasp onto an image of Nell. It was surprisingly difficult. She had multiple sets of memories. In some Nell was there, alive and happy, and in others she was absent, not missing but never there at all.
In Minnie’s first memories of Nell and herself, they’d survived the clutches of the Shadow Court together. In a later set they’d been friends from when they first arrived in High School. Both stories were true and neither were, depending on which angle she viewed them from.
None of that mattered to Minnie though. She was concerned with something more simple and fundamental. Nell was her friend. Nell was in trouble. Nell needed her.
The memories of that were as jumbled as the rest had been. Whatever the Man in White had done, it had upturned the events of Minnie’s life again.
“That’s fascinating. I wonder how you can know that?” the Man in White said. “Perhaps you’ve gone mad? Or perhaps you’re missing bits of reality yourself? Yes. You’re as broken as you remember your imaginary friend being.”
“I know that she was real. Stop wasting my time and tell me what you did with her!” Minnie said.
“She’s out there.” the Man in White said, pointing into Oblivion. “If there was any ‘out there’ to be in. But since there’s not, she’s gone. She’s not here and never was. Your memories are a lie, an artifact carved into you by torments that left you missing pieces of who you were.”
“She’s not a lie. My memories aren’t false. How do I get her back?” Minnie asked.
“You don’t. She’s not real. She never was. All her history, her future, her past, her present. They aren’t. There’s no her to get back.” the Man in White said.
“Nell!” Minnie called out. She screamed into the void but there was no answer back. No echo, no whisper, no anything.
“There’s no one out there.” the Man in White said. “You’ve come this far, it’s time to open your eyes and understand.”
“Understand what?” Minnie said, her voice catching in her throat as the vastness of the darkness around her began to fill her up.
“That there’s no one out there. Anywhere.” the Man in White said. “You’ve followed me this far in the hope of finding someone who never was and never will be, but hope is nothing more than the cruelest spike of all the thorns that you call reality. It tears you apart and makes you suffer for far longer than you ever should.”
“I’m not going to give up on Nell.” Minnie said.
“She gave up on you. She gave up on everything.” the Man in White said. “She found her peace when she embraced the truth. If you loved her, you would understand that.”
“How can you possibly talk about love. You’re a monster! You’re sick! ” Minnie said. Even in her minotaur form, she felt powerless.
“Of course I’m a sick. I’m still here, bound to the all the broad reaches of the real and the imagined. If I was healthy I would have followed your friend. I would have embraced the peace of non-existence. But I can’t do that. I have to be a monster. Only a monster can reveal the horror that surrounds us. And only someone who loves all of it would be willing too.” the Man in White said.
“You’re lost.” Minnie said.
“I know exactly where I am.” the Man in White said. “I am nowhere. The rest of this is just an illusion.”
“No. You’re lost inside.” Minnie said. “You’ve seen everything out here and you’ve fallen into a labyrinth within yourself. Your reason and your spirit are so twisted in on themselves that all you can see is the pain you once knew.”
“I’ve seen more than gods can dream of.” the Man in White said. “I understand all that there is more deeply than you ever will or ever can.
“You don’t understand me.” Minnie said.
The Man in White rolled his eyes.
“Do you think you’re special?” he asked. “I’ve seen countless people like you. Brave and foolish and hopeful and desperate to believe their lives have meaning.”
“You’ve seen people like me, but you don’t understand us.” Minnie said. She reverted to her human form and began walking towards the cliff’s edge.
“Ah, so you will continue on. Good for you. One last dramatic gesture and then you’ll vanish.” the Man in White said.
“I’m not going to vanish. I’m going to find my friend.” Minnie said and stepped off the edge of the cliff.
The Man in White smiled in victory, but the smile was short lived.
Minnie didn’t plummet into the abyss. She walked off the edge of the cliff and a thin pathway appeared under her.
“What’s happening?” the Man in White asked, shock coloring every inch of his features.
There was a small, pink flash of light and two new figures emerged on the shore of Oblivion from the Annihilator gate.
“She’s going to find her friend.” Jin said. “And she’s right. You don’t understand her. But maybe you should listen to her anyways. Those are the kind of people you can learn the most from right?”
“Before that though, there are some things we need to talk about.” Pen said to his twin.