“In the Company of Full-Stop Angels”
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And this is where it gets, and I’m quoting you here, ‘silly’?




The Mouse Army was on the run. Chased by the legions of Hell, they rose up onto the upper stage and performed a squeaky musical number, aided in no small part by the need to pause every few seconds and suck helium out of balloons. The hellions below (played by a particularly deranged subterranean family whose predilections involved sacrificing unworthy children to Il Maledicta’s massive heating furnaces, and incidentally also bathing in cadmium red) whooped and screamed in earnest, attempting to drown out the high-pitched chorus above. In the orchestral pit, experimental steam-powered Automat-Musiques squealed, hissed and groaned in the so-called musical accompaniment, punctuated by the occasional fart: every so often a balloon would escape a wayward Mouse’s paw and go skittering across the stage and into the half-collapsed auditorium…



Hail, hail, hail. It is I. What’s that?

[Frantic whispering from offstage.] (this section looks fresher than the rest of the crumbling script. Hector’s tiny squid protested multiple times as he tried to squeeze it for more ink)

Quail! Quail! It is I, for-forsooth, the Second Angel! [sotto voce] Is this really necessary?

[A sledgehammer knocks out several planks in the stage before unsticking a rusty trapdoor. ANTONIO PATRICIO MAJEUR ANTOINE GAGLIARDI flounces out, wearing a ratty red toupee on his chest, glued crudely onto a nightshirt. His moth-eaten beret occasionally sheds a cluster of dead bees.]

[singing nasally] Ragaaaazzaaaa *hack* *cough* benedettaaaaaaaa


The Proclamation of the First Angel went somewhat awry when the reanimated victim couldn’t remember her lines, instead opting to moan and bite anyone who came near her. In the end the machiniste improvised by holding up large cardboard speech bubbles. Meanwhile, escaped members of the Mouse Army kept leaping onto the stage at the wrong moments and breaking into song, falling into trapdoors, and in one memorable scene, a live reenactment of the Morris water navigation task, complete with exhaustion and several drowning deaths. One Mouse soldier died in full Morris-dancing regalia, having misunderstood the task at hand.

“Beautiful - beautiful - beautiful,” a slender hand caressed its partner, lightly tapping pale fingers to palm: a single clap. Before the Imago Dei - and that was not a qualification to take lightly, for no less than all the universe lay before his sight - he saw the dancer’s body carted away, to the still-merry jingling of bells, and he was pleased, oh so pleased.

“Joyous. Absolutely joyous. You are all working so hard;”

He did not need to finish.



[A frozen tableau. Half a dozen players stand stock-still, in various expressions of beatification and glory. They are meant to be looking at the Second Angel, but she’s buggered off somewhere.

A group of stagehands - what? (The rest of the sentence is messily scratched out. The next sentence seems to have a sarcastic bent to its hand)

Paintbrushes and plaster magically float around each of the players, and begin... painting plaster onto them? And magically drying them with torches? They’re wrapping them up like statues, and painting colors onto the drying plaster. Now they… they’re not going to - they just covered that man’s mouth! And his nose! He’s turning blue! They’re all going blue! Gray! They

What am I writing?]


In the Company of Full-Stop Angels ran on like someone had pulled the plug out from the bathtub that was the universe. Every minute the metaphorical vortex grew in size, drawing more of the theater into its influence and towards - well, the drain, if we’re working with this metaphor.

In this metaphor, many people had tried to stir the bathtub in the past. Many of them had been quite successful (see: Inne ye Companie of Fulle-ftop Angelf, Ave Ave Ave, some forty years ago), but none had had the power to pull out the plug, as it were, and all had petered out. And none of them had been quite so interesting, said the Imago Dei.

In a way, if he could care, if he were so much a ‘he’ as a pronoun of convenience, if he were, in effect, as alive as any of the creatures he saw scuttling before - behind - beneath - [i]beware
the stage, he would feel joy.

there is nothing behind the mask.

In as much as he could feel, he did feel something. It tore at him like cats’ claws on tissue paper, rending him, reducing him, unravelling him like a hastily-extruded cocoon. And much like most cocoons, something beautiful stirred inside.

Relatively speaking.

A hurricane is beautiful.

A pandemic is beautiful.

An extinction is beautiful.



EXT. DAY - BOX 279 - HECTOR is scribbling at a desk overlooking the stage. The box must have once housed nobles, proud and sinuous souls sitting with spines erect, gazing and leaning on the once golden-shining railings. All of this long ago and long forgotten, long after Il Maledicta descended into its damp subterranean hell. Now the box is little more than spillikins, splinters and canvas, shreds of its once fine maroon carpet clinging to a skeletal frame, and hasty bracing timbers tumbling into place and nailed there by rusting, broken bits of iron. Yet for all of its evolution it still had a beauteous view of the stage.

[Enter ANTONIO. He looks haggard and worn. Several recent tears mar the sleeves of his bright pink coat, threatening to turn him into the most stylishly-vested player in Il Maledicta.

Hector looks up at him. A black-clad stagehand, who of course did not exist, had expressly told him (in a remarkably realistic dream) that no one would disturb him as he penned the record of the performance. Apparently it had been just a dream after all.

Antonio silently holds up a pale head, which Hector immediately recognizes as the aforementioned dream stagehand.]

I have killed nobody.

You’re holding his flipping head!

I assure you, amico, it is estramamente stationary.

[Enter THE SECOND ANGEL. At this precise moment, her hair is half wavy blond and half scruffy straight brown. The tattered remains of a tiny top hat rest clipped to the blond side. She peers into the room and rests a scathing heterochromatic glare onto HECTOR - one eye is red, the other bright green.]

It’s like he said, okay? He hasn’t killed anyone. Come on… uh. What’s your face. We’re finding a way out of here before shit really goes to hell.

[flipping through pages] No! No, you have to be on for the final act! The… the pyre…

Yeah, you see why I’m not exactly enthusiastic. Come on, you like working for Chadface?

I - I have a duty to this play. I put my blood and sweat into it.

[grimacing] Okay. First of all, ew. Second of all, you’re as crazy as all of them. Look, I really don’t give a shit if you die, because then we all get to leave this hellhole of forever ren faire, but unfortunately I’m a halfway decent fuckwit and I’d feel just awful if I left you to the tender mercies of the suicide squad back there.

I… I won’t do it! I have to see how it ends!

[THE SECOND ANGEL sighs and motions to ANTONIO, who steps further into the room. The entire box creaks with the weight.]

Careful, Antonio. The whole thing could collapse.

You won’t make me go!

Listen to me. You’re the fucking playwright. If anyone other than Mad Chad down there can get these people to see sense - you - they - for fuck’s sake, they’re going to burn the theater down!

Yes, the pyre is a particularly good scene. Please - I beg you. The story just won’t be complete without its heroes -

[ANTONIO makes a grab for him.]

Please! Just - just come back for me.

We don’t have time for this.

[The box creaks more ominously, and splintering cracks reverberate through the superstructure. ANTONIO considers for a moment, then removes his starched cravat and chucks it.]

Buona notte!

[The heavily-weighted cloth flies like a rock, but it flies straight and true, right for HECTOR’s head. The pen and parchment go flying out of his hands, which raises the question as to how he still manages to write this narrative, but it’s become pretty clear at this point that this was until recently going on both inside HECTOR’s mind and on the paper. A meaty hand manages to grab his wooden leg, and he feels himself being hoisted level with ANTONIO’s exasperated mugshot of a face.]

Buona notte.

[HECTOR loses consciousness by way of a punch to the face.]


Sam cursed mellifluously as the three of them tramped down the dilapidated hallways. Every so often Antonio had to duck under a half-collapsed ceiling beam, shifting the Hector off of his broad shoulders. Then they’d have to stop while he readjusted the limp body, all the while glancing back and forth for spying stagehands. She’d hoped to co-opt the author into rewriting the play into something less fatal, but now it seemed she would have had better luck trying to convince fire into not being hot; their prospects at survival were beginning to look distinctly dim... and the hat (belonging to a Lady Dianna Earstwyle, Act II Scene 4, five lines about the weather before being struck by a wooden lightning bolt) kept whispering at her to get back to the stage, her cue would be soon, her lines would be glorious, not knowing she was already long dead. Who, then, was the voice that spoke into her head? The last remnants of a fading soul?

She resisted the urge to rip the hat off. First, its inner surface was coated in some especially sadistic Velcroesque hook fastener that feasted on hair, especially the wavy blonde locks Lady Earstwyle had seemed to delight in. Second, the hat was the least psychotic of the clothes she had been able to find - several of the costumes still had moldering skeletons inside of them, which was just a fucking treat to discover. Third, Lady Earstwyle apparently had had an excellent working knowledge of the rotting halls they wandered through, and it was her directions Sam followed through the cavernous fractal backstages (stages in the backstage with seats and backstages of their own, where other copies of Full-Stop Angels replayed, rehearsed, reviewed, reformed, remade themselves - it’s stages all the way down).

Somewhere over the rainbow - no, literally, a great painted canvas rainbow blocked their way - way up high… lay the Final Stage. Sam physically grunted with effort as she probed Lady Earstwyle’s mind for a way past.

Angela.” Antonio gestured with a free hand: above them in the sub-atrium hung a singular strip of silk, torn off of some rotting curtain or banner. Near it lay a hole in the sky - a carelessly left-open hatch - and a grappling hook with rope trailing down. A few grabs at the rope proved its strength, and they scarpered into a world beyond the dream.


The corridors were pitch-black. No, literally - walls, ceilings, floors, painted black with some utilitarian ichor. Bars of painful blue-white light hung suspended in the air, presumably on black cables. Footsteps made no sound, no shadows were cast, and only the slow passage of each dazzling cylinder above them convinced the trio that they were moving at all.

The silence wiped all thought of talk away. The light bored into one’s pupils, screaming and burning, coaxing silent confessions from behind the eyes - unbidden, unwanted, unaware. The darkness, in turn, drained time and space away and left only the raw soul, open and unprotected.

Sam felt her mind going. Quietly and piece by piece, in so many ways, she was slipping - slipping into the various identities she wore, slipping into the blackness. Her eyes were heavy as padlocks - how long had it been since she’d last slept?

Lady Earstwyle wittered something comforting in her ear, and she turned right automatically. The good lady had once dallied with a stagehand, something forbidden - oh so very forbidden. She had seen her lover’s face, a pale, pallid thing, but with eyes so honest and alive, and lips soft red and ready for the kiss, and she had kissed her, and stripped her black garments and she had undone her corsets. Time had no meaning in the dark spaces behind the scenes, behind the eyes, and they had intertwined, loveless lovers loving in love in the darkness and in the light.

Then the others had found them, and all they could do was run, run, run, run, for stagehands do not have names, they do not have identities or souls, and they do not absolutely do not fall in love. Love is for real people.

Left. Right. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. Left. More lefts than a traditional geometry could account for, then right again. Sam followed Lady Earstwyle’s directions soundlessly, almost mindlessly. Bit by bit the darkness stripped pretence away.

Stagehands are not born, they are built. That is why they are called the machiniste.

Sam looked down for a moment, and caught a glimpse of something colorful. A scrap of silk, grasped tightly in her hand. Why had she carried that, all the way from the hatch?

She looked closer, with effort, and saw it was wrapped around a rough blob of wool. It was familiar for some reason.

She brushed it with a hand, and winced. Splinters.


Her mind was going, she could feel it.

Left. Left. Left. Lady Earstwyle remembered running, her hand clasped tight in her lover’s. Marcella. Her name had been Marcella. They’d come out into the light in a costume room, her costume room, and the stagehands had followed, and

Her mind was going.

Left. Right. Left.

Marcella screamed as they unmade her, from the inside out. They took the flame of passion that had reignited her soul, and they snuffed it out and tore it apart, and rent her body into spatters on the wall. Stagehands are not people.

Right. Right. Left.

Her mind was going, there in the dark.

No one was allowed to live. No one was allowed to die. The machiniste took them all, tore their souls apart and saved the fluff to be reused. They killed her family, her fellows, her part in the play, and they sealed the passageways behind them.


She was left alone there, watching the mindless, soulless bodies of her family die, slumped and drooling in the corners of the room, until finally she starved to death too…

Elsewhere and elsewhen - years later, really - Sam Wün picked up a hat.

“Thank you.” Lady Earstwyle’s voice - unmistakably Lady Earstwyle’s voice, came crawling up from Sam’s throat. “I hadn’t remembered. Marcella, oh my Marcella.”

“You can join her now.” Sam’s own voice felt dusty and disused. “You can rest in peace.”

“Turn left. There’s another door. Marcella showed me once. The stage. His stage.”

“Thank you, Dianna.” Left - and there it was, warm light oozing from around the edges of the doorframe. “Thank you.

“Go to her.”

You, Lavi.


I love you.


A door, one of many, burst open - center stage, and every door opened at once. This was the cue for the resurgent Mouse Army, but only screams emanated in a perfect G-sharp major chord.

A beat pulsed from the orchestral pit, or perhaps it was the ichor in his unfolding wings. It was time for the breakdancing interlude.


Externally, Lavi’s performance was perfect, despite the dwindling number of players. Internally, she was screaming. Every so often Chad would have to dose her with more and more ampoules of the vile wordsmithing drug. And the thing she had made, it was wrong, it was so wrong.

The seats before them were empty, save a few piles of dust and distressing smears, but they went back, and back, and up, and up, into blackness and infinity. And in that blackness something watched - something unwrapping itself and emerging and masked, something that was the dark dot in the middle of a white expanse, a hungry, hungry dot waiting to devour the universe speck by speck and blow by blow, something that had brought her here and twisted her magic, a fitful, fateful gift to a world fated to burn, burn, burn, burn, burn.


Flashes, impressions came to Sam’s mind as she donned the tattered woolen robe, discarding her clothes piece by piece. Antonio kept pace behind her as they ran from the door down a corridor, freshly painted and clearly signed.

Angelica!” he called, and they skidded to a halt. He took a moment to readjust the playwright on his shoulder, then knelt again. “I must find the fratelli. I can lead them here, and we shall storm the stage!”

“No!” Sam shouted. “No more needless death. Everything about this is all about death - the play wants us dead, the stagehands want us dead, the fucking Haruspex wants us all dead. Let’s live for once.”

“I must still bring the fratelli. They are waiting.”

She wrung her hands in frustration. A bitter winter. Half a harvest. A stone circle. Starving children. “Fine. But no killing. Not even acting-killing.” A sacrifice. Broken stones. Fire.

Antonio bowed. “As you wish, angelica benedetta.”

“Take Hector with you. Keep him out of trouble if he wakes up.” Forests, burning. Brittle branches popping from the heat. Fresh snow.


The Second Angel burst onto the scene. Chad’s lip curled.


“Lavi, Lavi, Lavi!” Sam skidded to a halt, Lavi’s robe fluttering out behind her. “I-”

Suddenly, words failed her. Why did she love her?


The First Angel also burst onto the scene, not by choice, but by the loud bang that shook stage left. A fissure appeared on the boards of center stage, and underneath it glowing embers could be seen: a pilot light. Strange, inhuman howls and moans could be faintly heard beyond.

Fuck that for a joke,” the First Angel was heard to say.


A Scrap of Paper of Questionable Existence, an Oracle of Truth, the Last Aspect:


[The Proclaimer’s flesh is decaying. Some other force is animating her corpse. Scene: a mountain road. Those she has bitten have been taken ill, and have trouble speaking. Yet it is to the Prince’s credit that he is able to calm them and bring them clarity.]


[The rest of the page is torn away. Emerald ink splatters most of what survives. Faint bite marks mar the remainder.]


i respectfully disagree but whatever

reserve and have a song

I wanna be a real friend, Don't wanna break when I bend
I wanna a be no seeker, I wanna scream eureka

Quite a crowd had formed around the doors to Il Maledicta’s main stage, a few hundred people at least, all foregoing the pretences of their roles to catch a moment of the distant opera, even though the sounds of the crowd made this all but impossible. Upon seeing a crowd that big it took Nameless all the willpower she had not to snap back into salesman mode. It was only the thought of that terrible exchange rate that stopped her looking for props she could pass off as delicious confectionaries. There were probably profitable ways she could be spending this time, but she was having a tough time finding them. She never should have let Carlie out of her sight, now there was a girl who had a way of finding her way into situations.

As Nameless left the eager crowd behind she reflected on how easily she could have fallen in love with Il Maledicta. Making a sale here was so easy; as long as you could communicate the idea that your product was desirable everyone would behave as though that was the unquestionable truth. It all just seemed like one massive missed opportunity.

Nameless walked aimlessly down one corridor after another, moving further and further away from the ‘streets’ of Il Maledicta. She had no specific direction in mind, but having acquired Lavi’s infamy she supposed that hanging around in one place for too long might not be the best idea. Lavi had given Nameless a cursory heads up to watch out for those dickass aristocratic nobles. Namless wished she’d asked exactly what they wanted with her; it wouldn’t have affected her decision, but it sure would be nice to know whether it was the kind of trouble she’d be able to buy (or sell) her way out of.

As she meandered down a particularly decrepit hallway (the bulbs in the wall sconces had long ago burned out, the rotten carpet squelched underfoot, and here and there weeds grew through cracks in the wall) Nameless realized she’d walked straight into the perfect ambush location. Sure enough she glanced behind her to see a pair of goons trailing her in matching deep maroon suits, ties and crooked angle fedoras. They each had short black hair practically dripping with gel and identical pencil thin moustaches (though it was possible to tell that the lead goon’s moustache was just drawn on). In a run down corridor in the back end of Il Maledicta like this it was impossible for either Nameless or these goons to pretend they hadn’t noticed the other. Their eyes barely met before each of them was running full pelt down dilapidated passageway.

Nameless was already short of breath in under a minute, and it was taking a lot of concentration not to slip in the virtual swamp of the ruined carpet. When she tried to hold onto the wall for support a section of plaster collapsed under her touch revealing a dark space beyond. She pushed onwards, her instincts telling her that she didn’t want to be caught by these guys. Eventually, her lungs burning she rounded a corner to see a dead end; the path blocked by the rubble fallen from the floor above. If she was able to swear she’d have done so right at this point. Still she pressed on down the corridor hoping for some unexpected way out. She heard gasps and mocking laughter from behind her as her pursuers rounded the corner after her. Their footfalls slowed, she wasn’t going anywhere.

The lead goon called after her: “No need to hurry away, uh” he floundered trying to remember a name that should exist but didn’t for some reason “Angelo. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to miss la tua grandi prestazioni.” The other goon snickered.

As Nameless neared the fallen floor she brushed past a semi-veil of rotten wallpaper hanging loose from the walls, and almost gasped in relief as she saw a metal door like an emergency exit. It was a little rusted but in better condition than anything else in this particularly miserable corner of Il Maledicta. Without a moment’s hesitation she pushed down on the bar and pushed the door open, or she tried, the door didn’t budge. She pushed onto the door with her whole weight and nothing. She slammed herself into the door; not even an inch.

“See how inutile it is to try to run from the Borgata Family.” The lead goon smiled widely as he continued his unhurried pursuit.

Nameless slumped back against the wall opposite the door and gasped for breath. As she gulped down air she stared at the door. The footsteps of the mobsters squelch closer and suddenly she has an idea. She pushes herself back onto her feet and takes a couple of good gulps.

“Why don’t you stop putting up such la lotta and come with me.” The lead goon crooned. “Unless you want to do this nel modo più duro.”

Nameless faced the goons, gave them the middle finger and in one swift movement sold the emergency exit door and ran out through it. Outside the air was cool, there was a slight breeze that blew at her now heavily soiled veil. She let it blow away. It was only when she heard the goons starting to run after her that she considered that he hadn’t escaped them as thoroughly as she might have liked.

The outside at a glance; a black expanse with white box markings on the floor. Inside some of these markings were large rusted metal objects. Nameless sprinted for the nearest one, slowing slightly when she felt the roughness of the smooth black floor under her bare feet and then ducked down behind it. She peered around object which her collar was informing her was a automobile (more specifically a 1969 Chiral Hirola) to see the mobsters standing nervously in the doorway. They were glancing back and forth at the outside world even though Nameless was pretty sure she hadn’t reached cover in time. They shared glances as if to dare each other to take a step out into the world beyond Il Maledicta but neither did.

Nameless took an opportunity to look out at the world; beyond the black expanse she hid in there were more buildings; every one in some advanced state of disrepair. Weeds, bushes, and in some cases entire trees grew through the wrecked buildings; though the plants all looked a little off somehow. Maybe that was just a factor of being in a different world. There were no people, no animals anywhere, but here and there amongst the rubble were corpses; skeletons picked clean of flesh. It made her shiver, it also made her want to loot those bodies.

She looked back to the Il Maledicta stage door to see the doorway now standing empty; the Borgata Family thugs nowhere to be seen. Nameless breathed a sigh of relief, happy in the presumption they’d been stopped by some kind of Il Maledictan superstition.

Nameless stood up straight and brushed the dust and dirt from her dress. She tried to scrape the muck from her feet but only succeeded in spreading it across a greater surface area. Having straightened herself up as best as she could in the circumstances Nameless looked up at Il Maledicta itself. Though it was not in the best of shape it had clearly weathered whatever disaster had happened out here better than anywhere else she could see, even some of the decorative statuary remained intact.

Nameless smiled to herself; no pursuers, no contestants to worry about, just her and a veritable treasure trove of unowned salvage. If it wasn’t for the terrible exchange rate in this world she’d have been in heaven. Thoughtfully she reached up to her collar and gave it a twist; it was a slim hope but maybe now that she was out of that cramped theatre it might just be possible that her collar could pick up some of the other local currencies (this is of course assuming that any other people survived in numbers great enough to necessitate a currency which, as she looks at the ruined cityscape, does seem unlikely).

As her collar worked through its reboot procedure Nameless examined the automobile. There was a heck of a lot of broken glass lying on the floor around the sides of the vehicle. Nameless took another check of the bottom of her feet and resolved to find some shoes at her earliest convenience. Walking more carefully now she stepped up to the smashed window. Inside the vehicle there was a skeleton slumped over what looked to Nameless like a smaller, less ostentatious ship’s wheel made of plastic. Most of the corpse’s clothing had decayed away but peering into the footwell Nameless saw his boots, big, black and leather, still seemed pretty good. She tried to get the door open but it was as obstinate as the stage door had been and she solved the problem in the same way; though the entire automobile disappeared into the aether between this world and her Raxucorp Account when she did so. Unsurprisingly there was no luck on a more profitable currency.

Nameless took the boots after carefully tipping all the loose bones out onto the floor; they were probably too big for her but with a little padding they’d be fine. She decided she didn’t want to ruin them immediately so stowed them in her satchel. They were soon joined by some other items picked from the debris of items that had fell to the floor when the vehicle they had existed in had suddenly disappeared; a pair of spectacles, a cellular telephone, a wristwatch and a silver plated cigarette lighter (all helpfully identified by her collar).

Nameless was picking her way to the next nearest automobile to see what loot she might find there, when suddenly there was a stream of green text floating in front of her face; a projection from her collar. It said: Raxucorp smart collar user here there is a name that Nameless suspects had once been her own only from context and as soon as she takes her eyes away from it it fades from her memory this is Raxucorp Executive Acquisitions Manager Jane Jones, please respond. Below the message hung a holographic keyboard.

Jane Jones... Nameless could already picture her: long blonde hair, pale blue eyes, the very image of the word ‘perfect’. She clenched her fists and tried to remain calm. There was no benefit to be gained here from flying off the handle. Her fingers shook as she typed sup

We’ve recently received items from your account transmitted not just from outside of your home universe, but from multiple universes both of which are outside of the current operating scope of Raxucorp. Nameless might have scowled at the implication that this accursed company was operating multiversally if it wasn’t for the fact she’d been scowling ever since her collar had started ringing.

i stil get the mone rite?

Of course. Raxucorp would never dream of breaking a promise to a loyal customer. What we wanted to ask you is if you continue to travel through these far flung universes you could do us a favour and earn yourself quite a tidy sum at the same time.

no deel Nameless typed it out, pausing only as her finger hung above the ‘send’ key. Begrudgingly she erased the message, typed go on and hit send for real.

We will send you a bundle of data called a program. All we need you to do is activate this program on a machine called a computer.

an then wot hapens?

There is a very limited window in which we believe it is possible to talk to you, a window that is rapidly closing. A fully detailed explanation would not only be a waste of time that we don’t have but also probably be too technical for you to understand.

giv me the ideots vershun then

There was a long pause before the next message arrived. It would allow us to gather information about the multiverse.

Nameless chuckled bitterly and suppressed her desire to call bulshit. Despite how satisfying it would be to stick it to Raxucorp Executive Acquisitions Manager Jane Jones she didn’t need to give them a reason to hate her. Taking a deep breath she typed i ned tu think abowt it

Another long pause. Please don’t take too long Ms. that name again We’ll send you the file and hope you make the correct decision Nameless didn’t reply. She hit the disconnect key and the text and the keyboard faded away. She really wanted to take this collar off, crush it underfoot. Except that wouldn’t really accomplish anything. She sighed deeply, and turned back to face Il Maledicta.

There was a black shape and suddenly she was plummeting into blackness herself.
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It was pure white, the walls and sky infinitely bleeding into each other, the only specks that suggested the presence of existing being seven humans, a bird, an urn, and what seemed to be a corpse.


Chad's eyes met those of Imago Dei, both could see through their respective masks, but the roles were set. Prince and angel, standing in the center stage, all eyes on them, whether willingly or no, the stage, no, the entire theater flowing with an energy unlike any other. The two make an exchange in that moment, information flowing freely from one to the other, and the intentions are clear.

Imago Dei will die by the hands of Chad Chaswell Charles.

Chad Chaswell Charles will die by the words of Imago Dei.

Two truths told at the same time, both absolute, with a flawless conviction perfectly crafted and for a moment they are both true.


In a moment of weakness, the red headed time traveler is unable to make that final push and wield his unholy blade to kill the final, one and true angel. His blade drops to the ground and his role unfulfilled, failed. The Demonic Prince who came with the horrible intentions of slaying a beautiful and holy being out of jealousy is foiled. The town rejoices as the last angel finally frees them from the pitiful, unending torment that is each and every one of their lives.

In the Company of Full-Stop Angels finally ends and Il Maledicta doors are open, with adventurous sort exploring the ruinous theater, only to find corpses, weirdly fresh, with no explanation as to how they got there, in a theater simultaneously ruinous and maintained.

There were signs of a fire, but that too, seemed to have just vanished.

Rumors would spread, wondering what went on in Il Maledicta, how the doors came to be opened after such a long, long time. How ripe all of the resources hidden inside seemed to be, clean and healthy. It couldn't have been a disease, everyone who explored the abandoned theater felt fine, though wading through the corpses left them uneasy.

Eventually, people stopped going to the theater, man believing its riches to be long stripped and no one bothering to deal with the many corpses.

One day, an adventurer entered the theater, and found something peculiar. It was too books, both labeled the same, exact replicas of one another front and back. However, upon opening them, they found the contents to be very different, down to the ending.

The adventurer could find no more copies of the book, and no one they went to could discern which one was the true copy of In the Company of Full-Stop Angels.


"Hector, wake the fuck up."

Groggily, the man woke up, his head still in pain.

"It is time to move in for the closer," the bird told the man.


"The final step of the plan, if we are to emerge victorious, you must enter the stage."

"As what?"

Nestor flapped off of Hector, made his way to a tree costume, and then stared at him expectantly.

And so a tree entered a stage in motion, with a cute parrot perched on top.

There was no notice paid to this tree, as who would bother paying attention to a tree when The Prince was confronting Yet Another Angel.


Imago Dei could not contain himself, HE FELT THE CALL, the call that drew him to the theater he had taken for himself, long after the first copy of In the Company of Full-Stop Angels had been lost, after the many, many forgeries had been made and proliferated. He stayed and watched, generation after generation, seeing the two layers of Il Maledicta bleed on to each other, wondering if he would ever see his precious play performed perfectly. And he would know if it wasn't, after all, he had The first edition.

A final angel descends, more holy and more impressive than the last, and brings the curtain fall shortly after.

Imago Dei allowed the call of the theater to pull him in, his excitement well outweighing any risks/the no risks/it's just a play/there's no danger/at least not to him/he would be fine.


|Two copies, perfect in every way, one held by the Prince and one held by the Angel, produced at the same moment both almost shining despite their raggedness.

PRINCE: It seems like it is not our texts that will decide out fates, but our actions.

ANGEL: So it seems indeed. *Laughter*

PRINCE: I wield this blade against you false angel, bringer of decay, but as a man of mercy, I give you a final chance, reveal your true form, and allow the justice of the lord to come down upon you.

ANGEL: There is no true form other than that which lays before you, if you truly believe me to be a demon, then there is nothing I can do. Wield your blade all you like, I am an ANGEL, no wound a mortal can give will kill me.

|The Angel's hands are held out wide, as if waiting for embrace.

PRINCE: Then by the power invested in me, by the lord, and my holy lineage, I will take this blade, the blade of the people, and slay you, false idol!


Many bore witness to the moment in which the Red Haired Prince, a Hero in so many ways, thrust his blade into the False Angel, bringing an end to In the Company of Full-Stop Angels. As the righteous blade was thrust into the beautiful but dark creature, a smile, pristine but twisted could be seen from the false angels lips. There was a bright flash, with white light flowing outward and encompassing everything and everyone as the curtains closed for the first time in the history of Il Maledicta.

And the show was over. They could move on.

But first, there was applause. Two hands clapping then four then sixteen then an uncountable number producing a sound like a thunder that could scare the gods themselves away. Many say that it was the force of this applause that blew out the flames that had begun to spread. No one cared where the flames came from, nor did they care for any of the rivalries of the past. In the Company of Full-Stop Angels had ended and it was time for after party like no other.

None of the angels were to be seen, nor was the show stealing prince, but that was not enough to deter the joyous people of Il Maledicta. This was a production unlike any other, spanning years, generations, and they finally pulled it off. A show that had a power all of its own, that came to life in ways that no show ever could again, a true masterpiece had been witnessed by all, and they felt moved.

Tales spread about how the mysterious theater had opened its doors, and welcomed any and all with open arms and with so many stories to tell, and slowly, the theater changed. Over time, Il Maledicta began to serve a purpose much more noble, a hub for the lost, a place where one could just sit around and listen to the stories of the legendary production and recover from the woes of the world outside.

There were some that tried to disrupt or corrupt the peace of the place, but these were all effortlessly rebutted. It was as if inside the halls of the grand theater there were guardian angels ensuring that no harm befell upon it.


Chad Chasewell Charles, Sam Wun, Hector dressed as a tree with Nestor Notabilis still perched on him, the nameless person, Lavi Lannon, Carlie Levenson, and Zia holding an urn all stood in the whiteness, staring at the corpse of Imago Dei.

Chad walked closer to the corpse of the god (?) he had slain. He kicked it, still fearful of whatever power it could hold, especially given that he no longer had the plot armor granted by his copy of In the Company of Full-Stop Angels. After a moment, he rummaged through Imago's corpse, and took the other copy of the play.

Lavi and Hector were shocked that the plan had worked, Nestor was cackling with pure glee, Carlie had no idea what had happened but still felt distrustful of Chad, Sam and Zia had even less of an idea of what was going on, and the urn was still there.

Chad smirked, running his fingers through his hair and taking a breath. "Well team, it looks like we did it."

It was not celebratory nor was it reassuring, but it was silencing. As Chad stood, his eyes wandering from person to person to corpse to person, he knew the feeling that was flowing through the whiteness around them.


I wanna be a real friend, Don't wanna break when I bend
I wanna a be no seeker, I wanna scream eureka

Nameless awoke in a room, uncharacteristically empty by Il Maledictan standards. All the walls were draped with black materials. There was a table upon which there was a small neatly folded pile of black robes and a semi circle of folding chairs. She was sat in one of them, the two Borgata family goons who had pursued her were sat to her left, bickering in whispered broken italian. Sitting opposite her was a figure in a black robe with a white mask with a mouth cut into an exaggerated frown.

“Okay, let's get this over with.” she said. “We are the stagehands, the silent protectors of Il Maledicta. It is our sworn duty to keep safe the players who reside within this glorious theatre’s walls and to facilitate the plays that they have devoted themselves to. Since you three have seen the world beyond the walls for yourselves you have a choice you must now make. You can choose to become one of us and work that one day we can return everyone to that world beyond or you can choose to be die to ensure that our players immersion can never be threatened etc etc...” Her tone remained flat and uninterested throughout and Nameless was unsure whether this was intentional; a counterpoint to the drama of Il Maledicta or whether this masked figure just did not have the enthusiasm right now. “Honestly though this is all kind of irrelevant now. The Play’s underway, our job is more or less done, and meanwhile I’m down here because you three couldn’t wait like half an hour you just had to get out of the theater right now.” She sighed. “Just pick initiation and let's get this over with. It’s not gonna make any difference in ten minutes anyway.”

The two Borgata thugs looked as though they were barely following this. Maybe it was the idea of breaking character, maybe it was the empty bored pragmaticism this stagehand was taking in this sacred duty. “You really think you can convince a Borgata to turn his back on his back on la familia?” The one with the drawn on moustache asked. The stagehand shook her head despondently.

Nameless rifled through her satchel until she found her notebook and pen. ‘inisheashun w/e’ she wrote and passed it over to the stagehand. She glanced at the notebook, rolled her eyes and passed it back.

“Don’t think you’re getting bonus points for going voiceless. Most of us only do that ‘on stage’ so to speak.” The stagehand said. “Okay so initiate, from this day forth (for the next ten, fifteen minutes tops) you no longer have a name. You are a nameless stagehand, voiceless, operating from the shadows to ensure the smooth operation of the theater and the plays that run in it.” Nameless laughed silently to herself. “There’s a robe and a mask for you on the table, you can go into the next room to change if you want-” Nameless was already stripping off “or not I guess. Once these buffoons have made their mind up I’ll impart with you the secret history of Il Maledicta, the ultimate goal for which we strive and why.”

Nameless paused, scrawled a note in her notebook and handed it over. It read ‘no thanks’. The stagehand chuckled at this. “Suit yourself then.” She glanced over at the thugs. “You boys gonna do the smart thing or am I gonna have to kill you incredibly pointlessly?” The mafiosos laughed uproariously at this, the hilarity of this statement enough to distract them from Nameless’ temporary nudity.

She pulled on the cloak and mask (hers was the smiling counterpart to the stagehand’s tragedy mask), took back her notebook and wrote ‘how 2 get 2 main stage’. The stagehand related a set of directions to bring her straight to the main stage through the backstage, and all before the thugs fits of laughter had fully subsided.

“As if some foglio resistente ragazza is going to be able to overpower us!” The drawn on moustache goon said wiping away a tear of mirth. Meanwhile Nameless was stuffing her old clothes into her now bulging satchel. She gave the stagehand an appreciative nod, a minimal effort wave goodbye and headed for the exit.

In the corridor outside she heard a couple of gunshots and a very abrupt end to the mafiosos laughter. She shrugged and hurried towards the main stage.
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Antonio Patricio Majeur Antoine Gagliardi stood before his fratelli, the followers of the Second Angel. They faced off, nervously, with the followers of the First and Third Angels, who nervously held their knives and their cudgels. Not that it would have much difference. The crowd who pushed up behind them, eager for a glimpse of the stage, made it all but impossible for them to fight.

Instead, the three groups had banded together to prevent the crowd from storming the stage and to relay information back to the huddled masses. Also, they’d barricaded the doors and they were fairly sure the roving bands of walking corpses outside were growing dangerously large in number. But soon the play would end, and it wouldn’t matter anymore.

The room was hot and growing hotter, in part because of the body heat of its occupants, and in part because of the growing fire glowing under the stage. Antonio tried hard not to watch the lines of black-clad stagehands carrying buckets labeled ‘FIRE’ back and forth, but they’d never been so… overt before. A sign that the end times were truly at hand.

Muffled crashes tore through the barricades, and shambling, mangled bodies shuffled towards the stage. Even then, some undead instinct throttled their usual moans, lowering them to a far more terrifying whisper.

Behind them, the flickering fire grew stronger. Out the corner of his eye, Antonio absolutely could not avoid seeing three of the macchinista di scena carry a triangular pyre towards the stage, and every muscle in his body fought against the rule of noninterference. His angel was going to die. They were all going to die.

Time was running out.

And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
In one future… well, of course there was only one future, considering that in the other one Antonio was a moldering corpse.

Well, it turned out in this future there were a lot of moldering corpses too, all fallen with the death of the twisted False Angel - and possibly, though no one could have known this, with the departure of the Third and her own animate magic. Some stories say that even the living dead clapped when the curtain came down at last, their last act a salute to the masterwork they gave their lives to build.

The last of the water drained from the bottom of the bathtub. It was over.

When the last of the applause faded away, when the calls of ‘Bravo’ had finished and when the underwear had stopped flying onto the stage, each player stood in silence for a moment: a perfect, still moment where something ended and another thing began.

Slowly, Antonio removed his moth-eaten beret, and clasped it to his chest. “Mio Dio… It is done.”

Now denuded of angels, the warring followers dropped their weapons, one by one. “What… what do we do now?”

Antonio took a step back, and seemed to take in their surroundings for the first time. Rotting wood, moldering carpet and smoldering scenery, broken lights and abandoned, broken props. Wincing, he reached inside his nightshirt and removed six people’s worth of fake blood packets. They had an expiration date of three decades ago. How could he have convinced himself for so long that this was finery, that these were the greatest halls in the universe?

Mi fratelli... we rebuild.”
Sometimes, when the sound of clinking coat hangers would come across his ears, he would think of her: Sam - he never did catch her last name - the Second Angel. Mia bambina. He could still remember her face, after all those years.

He leaned back in his bed, and watched Venezia from his window. It still bustled the same way, though now the costumes were giving way to more sensible fashions. The sun was setting, just over the lip of the gargantuan cavern that had once swallowed Il Maledicta away; with the False Angel dead, the perpetual darkness overhead had parted at last.

“It’s time for your medicine, Mr. Gagliardi.” An androgynous nurse stepped into the room, carrying a few pills and a glass of water on a tray. “Be sure to take them all if you want to get better.”

He looked at the nurse for a moment, then deliberately knocked the tray out of their hands. Water spilled everywhere, and the pills flew into different corners of the room, never to be seen again.

“Mr. Gagliardi! Please!” The nurse said indignantly, then just as quickly they seemed to deflate, turning to leave the room. “Cleanup in 504… cleanup in 504. Yes, again.” They closed the door behind them.

Lorenzo Gagliardi leaned back in his hospital bed, satisfied. They would feed him no lies about the ‘play having ended’, no medications to convince him otherwise. He was perfectly happy to stay here until they gave up on him and let him perform again. Angela would be waiting.

And it wasn’t all bad. Sometimes, the ghost of his father came to visit.
“No.” Antonio’s voice was hard, and his meaty hands sat clasped on his paperwork-riddled desk.

“Francis assures us that this deal would pay for itself over the course of no less than five years-” tried the blue suit before the desk.

Francisco, that testa di cazzo,” Antonio’s voice grew harder, “has no authority to negotiate deals with anyone.”

“We could set up information booths, charge a ticket price, make some attractions.” blue suit’s companion, black suit, nodded silently. “We could make millions!”

“No. Where and when did you talk to Francisco? I think we may have to bring that figlio di puttana to heel.”

Black suit spoke up with a sneer. “I’m afraid we promised Francis safe passage in exchange for this meeting. We took him via the canals. He’s out of your hands by now.”

“Well,” and now, Antonio’s voice was like diamond, “you would be surprised at how well I can handle a gondola. We are done here.”

“Have it your way.” The suits stood, and turned to go. “But if not you, then one of the others in charge of this dump will sell to us. We’ll have our tourist trap, whether you like it or not.”

At this point, the only way to make Antonio’s voice harder would have been to add vector calculus to it. “I doubt it.”


“Il Maledicta is a place of healing - a place of hope. In the Company of Full-Stop Angels - it made me a better man than I could ever have been, born elsewhere or in some other time. Il Maledicta wrought that, even if it took generations, even if it took Angeli to finally free us. We have become a good in the world, which is more than you diavolo uova dal seno di una bassa nascita personaggio-perdente can say.” He took a deep breath. “Trust me: you will not get your tourist trap. Now get out, and do not come back.”

“If you would please reconsider-” blue suit tried one final time.

On Monday, Jofranka unpacked her caravan for the last time. Up until now, she took part in reenactments of the play, helping out backstage, creating unguents and potions that would make the actors up without killing them from arsenic poisoning. But she was getting a little old for the trip now, and plus, she had a masters’ degree to study for (Business and Accounting). So she moved into a little cottage, just on the outskirts of Napoli, with a nice back garden where she planted tomatoes and watercress.

On Tuesday, she visited her parents’ graves. Mama was of course long dead, but her father had held on for long enough to allow some teary goodbyes. He was buried next to her in the Napoli graveyard, still in his stagehand blacks.

On Wednesday, a group of curious children asked her about the time she met the Third Angel. She was happy to tell them what little there was, though she would never realize how important her little role had been.

On Thursday, she went to see the dentist, who recommended a new toothbrush. They spent the next fifteen minutes of the appointment talking about types of mouthwash and how best to keep them from child explorers. She was asked if she would care to do a spot of babysitting on the weekend. “That would be wonderful,” she said. “I’m not doing anything anyway.”

On Friday, she was struck with an existential crisis: perhaps she wasn’t Romany at all! After all, she had only been raised and socialized by one by a group of people who had imitated and maintained as much of the culture as they could over generations despite not even having a part in the play in most editions and whose actual ancestry could never really be tracked down but certainly she looked the part. This took up most of the day.

On Saturday, she babysat the dentist’s children, and let them play with her many-faceted crystals. She did more palm readings in an hour than she would have done in a month, since little Sal really wanted a future in which she had a pony. When the dentist came to pick them up, she said to her that it had been a full day, and to maybe look into pony sales.

On Sunday, she rested.

“Everything has fallen into place.” A dark clad man poured a vintage red into a chipped, musty glass. He steepled his fingers as he reclined in a aged, plastic throne. “Soon The First Angel will be in my possession. In the Company of Full-Stop Angels shall remain incomplete for all time. Eternal life will be mine, and a killer shall become a king.” The Phantom Killer delicately picked his glass from his rotting side table and raised it to the air. “A toast: to a new era, where we stagehands rule over those who stepped on us and thrust into the background.”

Two stagehands awkwardly exchanged glances to one another, not sure how to break the news to their vocal master. Eventually one of them mustered up to courage to step up. “The show is already over.” She signed “The Angels are gone.”

There was a moment of unbelievable silence as the reality sunk into the Killer’s head. “Wait, what?”

The other stepped up, “It happened about five minutes ago. Everybody is celebrating.” The killer blinked straight into the poor stagehands face. “Why did none of you speak up about this!?” There was another five seconds of silence as the stupidity of that line of questioning sunk into everyone’s head. “Oh, you absolute tit!” The Phantom Killer slumped into his throne, snatching the bottle of wine off the table.

“Might as well get shit-faced now.”
A bonfire of blacks.

Out of them all, the stagehands had the worst time adjusting. The urge to hide when confronted with bright colors was not an easy one to overcome. The same went for silence on stage, and for never talking to anyone not in black.

The hallways and tunnels behind the scenes seemed less labyrinthine and eldritch every day, as the last traces of the False Angel bled away. Soon enough, they were just ordinary places, like anywhere else. Some enterprising ex-stagehands put their scenery-painting skills to good use, creating breathtaking murals in the once black and dreary passageways.

Other ex-stagehands reignited old relationships, no longer forbidden, and still others began new ones. Some, like Jofranka’s frankly ancient father, only wished to see their lost children again.

A burning reminder of what they had almost done: a bonfire of blacks.

Some stagehands felt the need to atone, for the destruction they had almost wrought. They and other stagehands stayed working behind the scenes, though now in more mundane and at once more complex things. Some of them simply couldn’t conceive of not being a stagehand; it was all they knew. Some simply had nowhere else to go, or nothing else to do.

There were even those that tried to be players. Some of them ended up quite talented. It goes to show that you never know.

The bonfire of blacks collapses into white ash, revealing a marble monument: a statue of two women embracing. ‘To Dianne’ is carved into one side of the plinth. ‘To Marcella’ is carved into the other.

All is forgiven.

The contestants slipped into the Haruspex’s observatory amidst the fading echoes of applause. The familiar sensation of paralyzed limbs overtook them as the crystal walls chimed with their arrival, little icicles of glass tinkling against each other from the webbed arches. They stood clustered in a tight group, close enough to touch shoulders.

The Haruspex’s attention was not on them, though. As they had appeared, so had two lithe figures in faded court attire, shimmering into existence on the marble floor.

“Mademoiselle,” the first of them giggled, “I regret that we have business with you.”

They were tall and impossibly thin. The foremost seemed female, swanlike and airy, her angles sharp. Beside her stood a nondescript figure in a dark grey suit, clearly her subordinate. The air around them seemed bleached by their presence, as if all the color in the room had been drained.

“Vae Victus,” the female said, her face a smiling mask with closed eyes. She wore a gown of aging lace and worn silk that fell across her body like a mourning shroud. Her neck was long and strung with diamonds, her exquisitely coiffured hair tumbling across her shoulders in soft grey curls. She gestured to her companion demurely. “My chaperone, Vox Populi.”

“I have no business with you,” the Haruspex snapped. The glassy fibers rising from her arms crackled and sparked. “I am terribly busy-

“Oh, oh, I understand, my dear, of course,” Vae Victus laughed. Her voice was a like a songbird’s, high and chirping. It crawled mockingly into the Haruspex’s head, filling the spaces in between her thoughts. “But, with deepest apologies, our Court has taken issue with you. You have detained one of our senior members for several months now. We simply cannot bear this insult any longer.”

The Courtier shifted, casually, and suddenly the Haruspex saw that there was a spear in her hand: long, glittering silver, more like a needle than a weapon, with a red tassel bouncing merrily under its blade. Something about the weapon’s terrible brightness made the Haruspex’s breath catch in her throat.

“What is that?” the Haruspex snapped, louder than she meant to. She flinched as the hummingbird fluttered to her shoulder.

“Such a thing can have no name by its nature,” the bird said. “It is an abomination.”

“My dear Vox Nihili,” Vae Victus sighed. She ran her fingers through the spear’s dancing tassel. “You will not acknowledge your finest creation? Did all your children die for nothing?”

“Stephan,” the Haruspex hissed. “Make your friends leave.”

“They are not my friends, mademoiselle.”

“We are your family, Vox,” Vae Victus said. Gently she lowered the spear until its tip pointed at the Haruspex’s breast. Its blade gleamed hungrily. “You have been away from us too long.”

The Haruspex snatched the hummingbird from her shoulder furiously, clutching it in her fist. She thrust its little body out like a shield. “You come into my domain and demand my prize from me?”

Vae Victus gave a crystalline laugh and threw the spear.

It didn’t fly so much as it lunged. There was a terrible gleam and it was in the air of its own accord, its tassel a streak of brilliant red. The hummingbird darted, wings blurring, and the spear shot through where he had been only a moment earlier with a piercing whistle. The Haruspex’s hair billowed about her face.

She was stunned for a moment, and then screamed. “You!” she howled, thrusting her finger at the smiling Courtier. The hummingbird fluttered above her head. “You dare!”

“Your children miss you, Vox,” Vae Victus giggled. “Look how they thirst for you.”

The Haruspex turned, eyes wide with fury. Her captives, frozen, had fallen in the spear’s path.

Hector did not feel any pain. He felt very little at all, in fact. The spear had run him through, and with it shattered the vase that had been meekly hiding behind him. The blade was cold, colder than the darkness between stars and hungry, so terribly, mindlessly hungry where it had pierced him just under his collarbone. Numbness spread through him like searching fingers, drawing him in and- out? He wasn’t dying, he realized. No blood spilled from his chest to taint the shining silver. The spear thrummed. Nothing was happening to him. Nothing was spreading through his body. Nothing was dissolving him, unmaking him, painfully reaving the air with its sudden wrongness, its utter lack of anything. He was nothing. He was nothing.

He was

“The godkiller spear,” Vox said as the weapon tipped forward. It laid itself smugly upon the ground where something had once been. “That is its vulgar description, mademoiselle. It was my gift to our Empress.”

Vae Victus laughed again. “You see what you meddle in, little girl?” The spear was in her hand again, tassel dancing merrily. The Haruspex hadn’t seen it return.

The hummingbird paused in the air a moment, then flitted to the Courtier’s outstretched hand. He settled upon her middle finger and Vae Victus’ smile seemed to grow more sincere. “I regret I must leave you now, mademoiselle,” he said to the stunned Haruspex, his diamond eyes on the smiling Courtier. “There are many things I must correct. I will return to you when I can, but for now-”

A soft noise like an exhaled breath filled the rotunda, and then all three of the Courtiers were gone.

“What?” screamed the Haruspex. “What?”

Her rotunda was silent. She pivoted, staring at her captives. To a man their eyes were on the now conspicuously empty space among them.

“Beassssts,” she hissed. “Beasts! Beasts, all of you! Go! GO!”

She thrust her arm at them and the captives felt themselves being flung once more into a void, dark and yawning, before arriving somewhere else. Their last glimpse was of the Haruspex sinking into her throne, weeping bitterly.



Normally, Lyconia Vermilsang – erm, Ruby Glitter would had joined in but she was too preoccupied with her recent job loss. She had a great gig at a previous speakeasy, but then the police were involved. One thing led to another and well, mistakes happen – if you can call casualties a mistake. She did kind of feel a bit guilty but she figured she could not do much. Plus, Ophidian Jade seems to be pretty nice.

And expensive. Ruby frowned at her Bloody Mary, made with real blood (much to the bewilderment of the bartender). It didn’t cost too much, but handing over cash made her think how she was going to maintain a sustainable income. She was so preoccupied with mental math that she wasn’t aware her neighboring seat was taken.

“Hello, signorina.”

Ruby looked at her left. There was a smallish suit figure made even smaller with his terrible posture, looking expectantly at her. Ruby rolled her eyes and took a noisy sip from her overpriced cocktail.

“I’m not easy. And I’m not looking.”

“Oh no no, you are mistaken.” A pause. “Say, are you Ruby Glitter?”


“The Ruby Glitter of the Blind Crocodile?”


“The Ruby Glitter of the Blind Crocodile, which is now defunct because a horrible wolf-creature suddenly appeared out of nowhere and wrecked the place?”

Ruby stood up and immediately grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. His hat fell off, revealing the fact he was balding and the fact he had the smuggest-looking grin plastered over his face. She briefly considered if the possibility of tearing the little man to shreds in relative public of the speakeasy was worth the trouble.

“Aha, touched a nerve did I?” The figure chortled, despite his feet dangling a good foot off the ground. “Lucky for you, the police were on our payroll. But! I’m not here to arrest you – It would do us no good to let you rot in jail anyway. I’m here to offer you a proposal. Work for us and you’ll have everything you need. Money, alcohol, fame…”

Ruby growled.

“Anything to bring your bloodline back to glory? After all, the Vermilsang Clan is doing so poorly…”

“Do you even leave me with any choice to refuse? Of course, I’ll take your job.”

Ruby dropped the man. He scuttled back to his seat and proceeded to dust himself, none worse for ever. He reminded Ruby of a cockroach, especially with how crushable he is.

“Good, good, welcome to the Marconi Family, signorina. Here’s your complementary badge.”

He placed something into Ruby’s palm. It was a small silver pin emblazoned with a dog’s head on it. Ruby frowned. She hated dogs.

“Thanks, I guess.” Ruby attached the pin to her dress. It burned her hands. She hated silver, but not as much as dogs.
Chad was pulled into dirty concrete. A jail cell? Whatever. Cinders, soon. He was so angry. Hector had been his puppet, and now he was collateral damage in some petty courtier's power play. Chad was sick of being screwed around like this.

His hands curled an inferno for emphasis. Only they didn't. At the nape of Chad's neck something pulsed blankly. He tasted ions, but not really like ions.

What the fuck.

His limbs moved normally. His limbs moved normally, until he wanted everything to burn. He punched a wall and immediately regretted it.

"So you're the angry type."

Past the bars was a cop. Universe differences aside, clearly a cop. They were smiling. Chad hated everything.

But he was nothing if not resourceful.

"Please, there's been some kind of misunderstanding--"

"I highly doubt that! But if you insist on maintaining your innocence, you'll have plenty of opportunities to prove your moral worth in this program.

"You may have noticed an inability to use powers you were previously accustomed to for destructive ends. This is due to a geas-inducing brand, which marks you as a volunteer community-service member of this fine police well as curbing any criminal habits you may possess. This is a simple precaution to ensure a low recidivism rate, and as long as you lead a law-abiding life I've been told you won't notice a single difference. On your left you'll--"

"WAIT. Wait." No. "Volunteer police?"

"Yep! Despite the stigma, volunteer officers are some of our--"

"Nnn--I never volunteered."

"Oh, but you wouldn't be here if you hadn't." Smile condescending-apologetic. "Sorry, but you don't get to choose your job placement. And there's no second thoughts once you sign the papers."

"I--" Chad groped for something that would derail this train. "Mind control?"

"Don't be gauche."


"Oh, very." All their teeth were showing now. "After numerous attempted solutions failed to effectively police the Undercity area of this metropolis, we have increasingly turned to non-traditional methods of recruitment and rehabilitation. This one in particular is the result of synergy between those two vital areas. Now, as a response to this the criminal underbelly has put some nasty countercurses on its employees to prevent this kind of reemployment, but you're practically a blank slate--"

Chad had fallen from the heights of glory to the depths of humiliation, and the way this cop talked was too damn much.

"Just--" He gritted his teeth. "--tell me what I need to do."

"That's the spirit." Amusement? Chad hated. "Some plainclothes are on the bench to your left. The bathroom is through this door. Down the hall to your right is the front desk. Change into those and freshen up a little and be at the desk in 10 minutes." They turned to leave.

"Hey, aren't you going to unlock the door?"

"Oh, it's not locked. I have nothing to fear from you." They laughed and continued walking. Everything was going to burn.


Chad smirked at his reflection. It smirked back. He looked good, after all. In an old-timey way, but hey. He made it work. And he was going to find some way to turn this mess in his favor or he wasn't Chad Chaswell Charles.

He strolled down to the main desk. There were a couple other cops that looked him over, but the one from before was leaning on the counter and grinning at him and Chad could feel the direction his suddenly-awful luck was flowing in.

"I take it you're going to do more than just give me a welcome speech." Chad leaned on the counter as casually as he could, which wasn't a lot.

"That's right. My, you clean up well. It's funny, I don't recall any bloody fights breaking out at a theatre recently--but that's immaterial." They waved the questions away. "There've been omens, portents, and regular old rumors that something big is going to go down in the Undercity tonight, and we need as many officers out as possible. I'll be blending in and trying to gather as much information as I can, and you'll be serving as backup."

"Hey, I have skills of my own."

"Alright. For now, I just need your name."

"...It's Chase."

"Suuure it is." They swiped their thumb across the blank nameplate of a badge. CHASE appeared in engraved letters.

"I'm Teller, by the way." They handed him the badge. "I hope you've got some real firepower bottled up, or this budding relationship might get cut short quick tonight."

"Well, Teller." Chad smiled. "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."
The first thing to return to the universe was a soprano sax, wailing like someone’d just died. The hi-hat was next, and the drums began playing, and with that, the stars ignited.

Sam moaned, and tried to cover her ears. Her eyes still stung from smoke that was no longer there. And those weren’t stars, she realized as her vision cleared, those were wall-mounted lamps. Quite tasteful ones, actually.

The air tasted like camomile and aluminium, with a faint smell of clams. The faint sounds of clinking glasses and half-whispered conversations seemed just beyond a few walls away. A jazz club, then. Quiet instincts began to sort through the various threat level checklists.

Quiet but dangerous clientele. Not worth bothering without a good payoff.

Low lighting. Easy to hide and to lose tails.

Usually underground… oh hell, not more of this shit.

Sam pulled herself up, and noticed she was on the floor of a bathroom stall. The smell of scented candles filled the world with a faint urinary olfactor, permeating the classy atmosphere with an air of distaste and neglect. Dust hung thickly in the lamplight, and Sam sneezed, sending vortices spinning through the stagnant air.

They were definitely underground. Sam was not having any of this, and staggered through the stall door, only to be met by a very large, very ornate and very dusty wall mirror. In addition, she was very briefly met with a very naked reflection of herself, turning very quickly back the way she’d come.

Her clothes... that’s right, they’d been part of the Theater of Horrors, (the underground Theater of Horrors, she reminded herself, shuddering) and whoever was running this show seemed about as emotionally invested in making sure of her entertaining wardrobe malfunctions as she was with her ridiculous hummingbird ghost, or whatever. Sam had been thinking about that for several seconds before she realized she didn’t care, and a few seconds more before she realized that it didn’t matter if she didn’t care, she was jolly well going to be caught up in it anyway.

As she sat down on the toilet lid, trying extremely hard not to touch it in any way, her eyes travelled onto a convenient brown garment on the stall door’s coat hook. A ruby badge sat on one shapeless fold of canvas, depicting a deer -- a doe, actually -- in mid-leap. The rest of the outfit, Sam realized with a start, was Lavi’s discarded robe.

Reaching out, she felt the fabric in between her fingers, listening to the murmur of memories spark connections in her cladomorphic brain.

“All right,” she said, her voice already tinged in brogue, “let’s find you.”
Capo Melanchoria Marconi expected Ruby Glitter to come.

Of course, Ruby hadn’t really came in the flesh yet – but she will come. They will introduce themselves, share a cordial chat, perhaps (hopefully!) a nice spot of tea. Alas, Melanchoria will never see this heartwarming scene with her own two eyes. The entirety of her vision was stuck in the future. The present – for her – was a span of fuzzy emptiness that she can only postulate the meaning of. Perhaps those legends about oracles did had some truth to them. Melanchoria let herself a rueful smile.

“Something wrong?”

“Oh no,” she replied. She knew Ruby will polish off her thumbprint cookies and through a serious of unfortunate events, capsize the entire table with a careless tail. Melanchoria will not mind but the china will be her grandmother’s and the sentimental value will make its potential destruction to be unbearable. She will artfully direct to the point of the conversation. “Are you prepared? Are you ready?”


“Is that a yes?”


“Good.” Good. Where should she begin? She will tell Ruby that there will be…someone that the Marconi family will want to be dealt with.
A human? Strange fashion. Strange powers? Str…strange eyes? Shiny and glittering like a pest-fly they are. Melanchoria had no idea what height-weight-astrological sign (always a disappointment) they are but she wanted them gone. Gone!

“So I have to kill that person?”


“Well, it’s not like I have a choice.” Ruby will reply and she will be generously paid, properly supplied, and unceremoniously escorted out to god-knows-where. And when, even. Going beyond that point will reveal nothing but a soft, hazy infinity. Magical interference from other rival…otherworldly powers? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Doesn’t matter. Besides, she made all the calculations. She scoured every hazy second of the future. She was confident someone (one) will die.

Melanchoria will feel a little silly hinging all her faith into this one fact, but so much had happened in the past and so much more will come. Someone will destroy their holdings. The Marconi’s will be defaulting on their police payments. They will be…gone, the entire family, not that she will particularly mind. The verisimilitude of this single fact, gave her hope. And information.

Hopefully, information that will not be grossly misinterpreted by Ruby.


In the hands of a more level-headed human being, the generosity of a starry-eyed grandmother would had raised nothing but suspicion, but Ruby was neither level-headed nor a human being. Ruby hastily counted her money. Ten-twenty-thirty – ah, what the hell, more money than her fingers (and patience) could handle. Think of all the pretty things she could buy! Filet Mignons, cute dresses, and oh! Premium tickets to the Full-Stop Angels play –

Ruby was so lost in her joyful indecisiveness that she collided with a complete stranger.


“What the fuck.”

That…that was a really country way of saying fuck. Ruby got her bearings and oh, oh my god. A human. A human fashion disaster. Their skinny stature combined with sheer volume of the angel costume – not to mention the sheer amount of sequins – gave a comical impression of a Christmas Tree made flesh. They – no, she smelled like sadness and piss. She obviously had a cloak that wasn’t hers. Ruby wondered if she was drunk.

“Are…are you okay?”

The stranger glanced up. Red eyes. Strange. “No.”

“Are you drunk?”

“God I wish. Just. I nearly lost myself? In someone?” A melancholy pause. “In someone else too.”

“Are you…in love?”

She glanced away. “Not important.” There was a bashful undertone to her voice. “Just tell me where the pin comes from.”

A seam of the travelling cloak was in her face. Ruby immediately recognized the doe-emblem on the badge. She knew they were…the enemies of the Marconi’s! And some other things! And that’s it! The people who told her that were lacking in effort and time. Ruby didn’t particularly cared.
Besides, the fact that the person’s hands are peeling away to green was far more interesting than any form of criminal intrigue.

“Oh yeah, the deer-fellas.” Ruby scratched at her chin. “Somewhere in the gardens.”

“The gardens?”

“Well, s’practically a forest. A fake one. Like, the plants are real but like people grow’m in-”



She lowered her eyes. “…Thanks.” The stranger held the cloak closer and ceremoniously disappeared into the crowd. Ruby could had sworn the human looked more gangly and weatherworn, but it might be just her imagination. Plus, there was a slight hint of the…forest? Loam and leaves.

They were underground. In a city. There was no way to pick up such a scent.

What...What did Melanchoria said? She had to deal with a strange human with strange powers. And strange eyes! This stranger fit so perfectly into the minimal requirements it was practically miraculous. Ruby thanked her lucky stars (and moons) and shadowed behind the human, oblivious to the possibility that she might be nosediving into a case of mistaken identity.
Fire. A burning harvest. Golden wheat, tarnishing to black ashes. Mercy. The standing stones. A sacrifice…

Sam tried. Somewhere out there in this underground city - another underground city, they just couldn’t get away from that, could they? - the fires were burning, the stones are falling, the memories were there in a head in a Lavi in a room in a building in a neighborhood, to her left, to her left, right, colder, warmer, hotter, hotter, gone again. Where was she? Somehow she had to find the mind in which lay the memory of fire and stone. She had never done this before, but she knew she could. She ran, and walked, and ducked under arches and leapt over fences. She climbed a wall at one point. Her hands felt gritty. Was this how Lavi felt all the time?

Soft lips, loose ships, no canals this time round, thank god. The air was cool and dry, not mildewy and unhealthy like it had been in that terrible mock Venice behind all of them. She breathed in a deep breath, and felt the urge to curl her toes into the dirt that wasn’t there, to bury roots she didn’t have.

A blessing or a curse?

Another shake of the head. Sam forged onwards, cutting off the tendrils of curiosity. Too many times in the past she’d wondered too much, wandered into other people too far. The punishment for that was usually twenty thousand volts. It’s funny, now, that she could look back on those splintered and fragmented memories almost clinically, as if she were the scientist with the cattle prod and not the crying, spasmodically twitching girl on the floor. The tears came freely, without end, she remembered. Her eyes squeezed tears out of their own accord.

Muted reds and lavender lights lay suspended lazily from wrought-iron brackets, the tinted lamps beckoning with a promise of delights beyond measure, dreams without end. Red Harmonic, the badge on her - no, Lavi’s - robe sang to her her, Red Harmonic, Red Harmonic, Red, Red, Red, Red. If you sing in chorus, all of you get solos, together. A lavender light, hung just above a red one, the bottom of one lantern dipping almost entirely inside the other, a harmony and interplay of color and light: a harmony in red. A promise from your dealer to you: let me tell you a story…

Ahead, the lavender gave way to a deeper ultraviolet. These lamps lingered near the ceiling, clinging onto it with polygonal legs. Below, trees grew bathed in cancerous rays. Between the leaves, finely-dressed people strolled among the plants, chattering. Parasols spun and sunglasses shone with the effort of removing their bearers from the sterilizing glow above.

Was she a prisoner, somewhere in there? Tortured by the unworldly light - Sam could feel her own skin tingle with the action of carotenoids performing non-photochemical quenching on molecules of excited-state chlorophyll, bringing them down to the ground state through nonradiative decay in response to the high light levels exceeding that of the capability of photosynthetic absorption - or perhaps just cut and examined by the… the…

Sam strained to make out the half-remembered family name, the name for the ones who were strolling along not ten meters away. The badge whispered something to her, but there was too much Lavi in the way. She wouldn’t be able to get in there like this, anyway. She peeled the sad brown robe away for a second, and noted the places where her skin had turned green; she’d have to cover them. A tokenistic and ultimately useless effort was made to remove the last of the sequins while she was at it. Di Capreo-Linae, that’s what it was. The House of the Deer. Gardens for growing poppies, coca, harmonium. She kissed the little badge.

The rest of the story here can be abbreviated as follows, like flashed images progressing simultaneously through the realm of a harmonic dream: Sam sneaking into a nearby speakeasy. Sam pilfering a duffel bag. Sam pilfering several more duffel bags. Sam giving up on the duffel bags and straight-up stealing purses. Sam, disguised, strolling past the cops looking for her. Sam walking into a tailor. Sam walking out of a tailor in a new slinky dress with lace ruffles. Sam accentuating with a stolen scarf, comporting herself with all the grace of a Lady. Sam strolling back towards the gardens, black parasol in hand.
The notes of a pianist out of sync, misplaced. It was red behind Chad's eyelids and his red hair was wet in the gutter. He rolled onto his elbows and coughed.

It was a secluded street, lit low by gaslight. Disgusting. Corny. Pseudo-speakeasy bullshit.

This fucking city. His head pounded with fog.

He felt in his pockets. Still there. Ran a hand through hair that—could have been better.

Time to get all my ducks in a row. Time to put all the pieces on the board. Time to—ghhrg.

Fucking piano music was playing from somewhere.

Time to uneven the odds.


So far, being a plainclothes cop-by-force wasn't so bad. Walking in a good suit in an underground 1920s magic borough? It had a dreamlike quality to it. He tipped his hat at a passing lady. He was fitting in and standing out.

Alright, let's stop at this bar. The Leviathan's Own have gone oddly quiet—you probably haven't seen them handing out weird pamphlets on street corners anymore, right? And there's been a drop in their terrorist activity, too...there's a guy here who works down in the deeper levels. Are you claustrophobic? I mean, no one who...” Teller trailed off. There was a crowd gathered down the street, all looking at something. “Hm.” They picked up their pace.

Chad followed them into the crowd, elbows first.

“Should we call the police?”
“What's the point, pretty obvious what's done it...”
“Such a young man, too...”

In the center was...a young man. Chad looked so young under that oversized greatcoat, back wet-black with blood. Someone had had the decency to cover him up.

His glasses were next to him, crushed. His eyes were already closed, but—

“All the resellable organs'll be gone. Wetworker signature. Alleyway ain't sanitary, but why just leave good product to rot?” Teller was pulling him back out of the crowd by the arm. “Do you have nice eyes, Chase?”

Chad didn't answer. Teller kept pulling, away from the people.

“He was wearing the white of that organization. Some kind of infiltration gone awry? Ah.” They shoved Chad hard onto the steps of a darkened apartment building.

He laid there.

“I-...don't know-”

“Whatever lie you're trying to construct, save it.”

“I don't know--” He rested his head in his hands. “I don't know what the plan is.” Some other me, out there—who's the bit player, and who's the leading role?

Is this what you wanted?

“I have doppelgangers.”


Religion, religion, religion.

Carlie would have taken off the heavy, culty robes that had just appeared on her, but it was weirdly cold in the stone cell. Mercifully clean, but cold. There was the sound of distant chanting.

This is really bad. This is really bad.

This is fine, I actually wanted a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts and have no choice but to reflect on all the things that just happened to me.
Carlie curled up in a ball on the cot. The robes were actually kinda comfy.

What the fuck. What the fuck What the fuck.

There was the sound of distant screaming.

Do I have some kind of subconscious issue with religion? I mean like this isn't—all in my head I don't think anymore ha ha. This is some kind of—Narnia bullshit—some kind of Looking Glass bullshit—I've probably just gotta learn some kind of lesson, right?

Ok. Symbolism. I passed English class, I can do this. Uhh. Ok, first off—bringing people back to life. That's uh. That's wanting to take back mistakes. Getting a redo. Obvious. Duh. O.K., next one.

The door silently swung open, even though it totally looked like it should creak.

There was a robed figure.

They stepped inside and pulled the hood back.

It was Chad,

“Fuck,” said Carlie, out loud.

“Hiiiiiiiii Carlie.” said Chad.

Carlie scrabbled back into the corner furthest away from him.

“Look, just—get out—if you think you can just, I mean, Chad, you killed people? Right? You can't just—whatever you DID to that place—and then? Come in like? Okay?”

Carlie hyperventilated.

Chad tilted his head.

“What I did to that place? I seem to recall certain ravenous hordes as a direct result of your actions.”


“Take deep breaths, Carlie.”

Carlie gripped her head.

“Look just, why are you even, PLEASE, just say whatever creepy thing you want to say about how cool this awful cell is and GO.

“Why am I here? I'm glad you asked!” aaagghhfhhfhgh

Chad rummaged theatrically in one of his pockets and produced a button-shaped bronze pin.

This is a communicator. Y'know, Carlie, this whole situation you're in-” He spun a finger around in the air. Preeeetty bad. Now, I can get you out—but I need you to do a couple things for me first. Stay put for now, move when I give the order—you know how it is.”

“...You think you can just—order—you had a plan last time, right? Great plan! Fine where I am thanks!”

“So between me and a bunch of crazed mafioso monks, you're choosing the monks?”

“Y-yeah! Yeah, I think I am!”

“Oh, Carlie.” Chad sighed. “You know what these zealots did to you the first time around?“ He shook his head. “The things that faith can lead to.”

“Wh...wh what...”

But Chad's grin only got wider.

It was very cold in the room.

“...Yh. Hhh. I can. I can think about it, right? I'll take it, and-” I can always go back on it “-I'll. See.”

She held out her hand.

“...No harm in thinking. And you'll have plenty of time-” He tapped the stone wall, “-To mull things over.” He pressed the communicator into her palm, then gripped her hand into a forcible shake.

“Just make sure you don't run out.”

He turned to leave with a sweep of the robe.

“I'm not going to kill anyone for you, Chad.” The words bubbled out.

“...Carlie,” He chuckled slightly, “I'd never ask you to kill anyone.”
Carlie slumped into the corner and curled up into a little ball of hate. She fiddled around with the small, bronze pin that Chad had given/forced onto her and stared at it with disdain. "duuuh I'd never ask you to fuckin' kill anyone." she said in the most stupid voice she could muster. "Fucking prick, think you're better than me?" she anemically tossed the pin into the wall, it's little tinks echoed through the cold, stone hallways.

Carlie buried her head into her thick heavy robes. God who am I kidding, of course he's better than me. EVERYONE here is better than me. Everybody seems to know what they're doing. Everybody has some big, fucking plan they're trying to pull off. And here I am just dicking around, trying not to die. It's no different to my 'real' life. Carlie's hand slumped to her side and a tiny spark of white flame danced on her fingertips. The cadaver of a tiny moth suddenly sprung up to life and fluttered erratically into the air. Carlie would of reacted with horror (moths? More like awful fluttering wingspawn of satan jesus fuck aaaaaaa) but she felt too sad to muster up energy. Why me? Why give this amazing power to someone so hilariously incompetent? Am I just the punchline to some asshole God's joke?

Carlie's sad sack contemplation was interrupted with muttering and footsteps getting louder and louder. Ahh shit, maybe if I just sit here perfectly still they'll just walk on by...

"The timing is not right. The prophet told us...
"I don't give a shit about the timing! We're ready now! Let's do it now!"
"If we don't follow the prophecy word for word we risk disastrous consequences."
"It'll be fine! Fucking hell, be cool for once in your life! Anyway, shut up, this is the one."

Two robed figured stood right outside Carlie's cell because of course they fucking did. One large, heavy set man, completely bald and sporting a death stare that could drill through concrete. The other a rather skinny looking man with slick, stylized quiff. Both wore the same robes that Carlie had and both sported badges emblazoned with a ring of wings.

The bald one spoke in a deep, deliberate tone. "The ceremony is about to begin. You will come with us."

Carlie looked around in a panic, her eyes darting towards the bronze pin she tossed aside. DUUUH Don't worry Carlie! You'll have shit loads of time to think about this! I'm Chad and I'm a big fucking asshole! God damn it this was all his fault, somehow. "uuhh no? Like, do I get a choice here? can I, uh, take a mulligan on that?"

The robed figures briefly glance at each other, a hint of confusion dancing across their blank expressions.
"...You have already made your choice, destiny has chosen you."

"Cool, that's a no then, that's, fine. " Shit shiiit shity shittery shit-jerie. "Well, er, could you tell me what's the, uh, deal? Like, what's gonna happen here?"

The bald man clasped his hands together and closed his eyes, as if in deep prayer. "Great things."

"Oh. Well. I mean, that seems, needlessly ambiguous?" The man opened up one eye and glanced at Carlie in bewilderment. "Like, I'll be honest, seems pretty clear you have an ulterior motive here." The large zealot started to lose his composure over Carlie's blunt retort "N-no there's nothing...there is no ulterior motive." Carlie leaned forward, "Nah dog. I've played this fucking game. You are so obviously evil and I ain't doing SHIT for you." Carlie folded her arms and scowled at the two monks in front of her. Haha take that! Nice one Carlie!

I mean I'm probably going to die but yeah! Self confidence! Maybe that's what will Wizard of Oz me out of this shitshow!

The bald man was at a loss for words. His small companion sighed loudly.

"Nice one you big tit. Let me talk to her."
"I am of higher rank it is my solemn dutyAAgh!"
The quiffed man stomped on the bald one's toe. "You fucked it up, Alan! This is why you don't work in PR."

The smaller man stepped into Carlie's cell with a casual demeanor. Carlie reflexively pulled her self further into her corner. "Heeey! Buddy! Lemme' just say, I apologise for my friend here, he is socially...challenged." Alan stared daggers into the back of his 'friend's' skull as he nursed his toe. "Yeah, I noticed." Carlie quipped. "Look, this whole thing is really sketchy, okay. The robes, the religious overtones, the fucking dungeon? None of this is going to turn out okay!"

Quiff man's body language was much more energetic and lively than his stoic compatriot. "hey, hey, hey, hey, look I get it, you suddenly appear here and it's like 'whaat?' right? Like, I get it, it's real weird out of context right?" Carlie couldn't help but warm up to the robed man in front of him, it was a relief to finally hear someone acknowledge how fucking odd all of this was. "Let me be honest with you for a moment; yes, you are part of this prophecy dealy we've been talking about and yes, you are kind of a big deal to us. BUT! That is why we want you to be a part of this ceremony! As, like, the big guest of honour!"

Carlie squinted at the guy in front of her, "Okay, but you still haven't told me what this ceremony is."

"Oh! Buddy!" The man danced in place in a giddy fashion. "It's a big party! Like, a religious holiday! We got food, drink-" He leaned forward and put his hand to his mouth in mock whisper "and ~druuuugs~!"

Carlie's interest was piqued "..what...kind of drugs?"

"Oh hoho! The best kind! And let me tell ya'; you look like you could use em'. You're looking pretty stressed out."

Carlie thought about it for a moment. I've gone through so much shit today. I could use a pick-me-up. Carlie's eyes once again darted towards the bronze pin laying on the stone floor. She reached out to grab it gazed at it intensely.

Suddenly, a tiny little angel Carlie pinged onto Carlie's shoulder!
"Don't do it Carlie! Remember, Chad said these guys were bad news! We should really do what he sa-"

Then a little devil Carlie poofed onto Carlie's other shoulder! "Hey! Remember that time Chad threatened to roofie you if you didn't play in his bullshit Shakespeare fan fiction?"

"Oh god yeah, fuck Chad. That guy is the fucking worst."

Carlie darted up, billowing dust all around her. "YEAH! FUCK CHAD! I'M IN!"

"Yes! Fuck whoever that is! Let's go!"

The robed men lead Carlie out of her cell, in hushed tones they spoke to each over.

"This is a mockery of the teachings. A man of the holy cloth should never act like that."
"Sorry what's that? All I can hear is the sound of me getting promoted to high ~priiieeeeessst~!"

Alan's face scrunched up in annoyance as they lead Carlie down labyrinthine halls of stone and mortar. After a long, silent walk they opened a great wooden door in a grand church hall, lit all around by tiny flickering candles. The pews were filled with robed denizens, all with their hoods raised and chanting in slow prayer.

"Woah...okay, you were not fucking around with the religious stuff huh?" Carlie blurted out, admiring the massive stain glass mural at the back of the church hall.

"Yeah, it's wild, this probably looks crazy and shit but trust me, we just got do this little formality thing and then we can go straight to the partying!"

Carlie glanced at quiff man with skepticism, which he immediately picked up on. "I know! I know! Look it's just like...saying grace before a meal! You know! traditions and shit!"

Carlie bought it hook-line and sinker. "Oh. Well. uh, do I have to, like, do somethng or..."

"Just stand right here and just, kinda, soak it all in!" He lead Carlie to the front of the Church in the centre of great ornate circle drawn in chalk. Carlie would of gotten stage fright standing in front of so many people, but unfortunately she was now very familiar with standing on stages in front of hundreds of people, looking like an idiot.

Alan took his place in front of a pulpit, taking a large book in front of him and turning the ancient pages within. Carlie noticed his hands were trembling, which was weird but whatever, soon she'd be high of her tits and everything would be great again.

"The all seeing Melanchoria Marconi prophesied that this day would come. That a holy angel would-"


There was an awkward pause. Carlie turned bright red. "Sorry."

...would descend upon our world and in her hands she would hold the light of out Great Savior. The holy Godess. ELEVIN.

Holy ELEVIN we thank you for your guidance. The whole room muttered in unison.

"You named your God after a prime number?" Carlie's little quip was ignored by all in the great hall.

"And with the union of her Holy Soul and her Holy Body, she shall finally return to us in absolute resplendence, and lead us to the promised land we have waited for for so long."

"Is this gonna take long? Cos' I could murder a turkey leg or some shit right about now."

Quiff man gave a cheesy grin and a thumbs up to Carlie. She rolled her eyes in return.

"Now let us all imbibe in the Body of our Savior, so that we may be one with her glorious return."

Everyone in the room reached into their robe and pulled out an ornate syringe, filled with a deep crimson fluid.

Carlie's eyes widened. Oh shit. Not again.

"Hey so, er, no? No to all of this?" She shot nervous glances to anyone and everyone. "Like, hey, I can party with the rest of them, but, syringes? That's a little intense."

Quiff man dashed towards Carlie, who was looking increasingly more and more pale by the second.
"Hey, hey, hey now. Lets not be so hasty yeah? Trust me this stuff is good, you'll love it!"

"Eeeeeeeyeaaaah but no though. I'm feeling really uncomfortable right now. I don't wanna do this."

The skinny man threw his arm around Carlie nonchalantly.
"Hey, bud. I can respect your boundaries. If you don't wanna take part, then I ain't gonna hold that against y-hey what's that over there?"

Carlie glanced in the opposite direction, "Huh? Whats over wh-"

Carlie froze as a slender needle pierced the back of her neck. A deep red ichor pumped straight into her veins. Carlie jolted her elbow straight into the cultist's face. He recoiled back in pain, leaving the syringe jammed in her nape. She stumbled forward and yanked the needle out of her, she opened her hand to reveal a completely empty vessel.

"You. FUCKER!" She barked at the quiff man, who was nursing a heavily bloodied nose. "What the fuck is your problem!?"

The man laughed in between winces of pain
"Buddy, you weren't being cool. I had to! Don't worry, babe. Great things are going to happen."

Carlie was incandescent with rage. "I should of fucking known. I should of listened to my gut! I can't believe I let you work your fucking how-to-make-friends-and-influence-people bullshit on me!" Carlie grabbed her head, she felt nauseous. "Oh god it's kicking in. I swear if this is some mind control horseshit I swwwweeeeeeaaaaarrr-"

The world seemed to go in slow motion. Carlie's vision hazed up and all she could hear was the soft hum of esoteric hymns. She watched as monks happily shot needles into their wrists. Carlie blinked slowly as a feeling of deep relaxation fell over her. This isn't so bad actually. A girl could get used to this wait no you're mad! Stay mad! Stay maaaaaaaaa

aaaan I mean, maybe you overreacted, a little, a tiny bit. This is, like, being pushed into a cold pool. Yeah you just need a push is all.

"Haaa hahaa." Carlie laughed lazily "Okay. When you're right you're right. Thiiiiiiis is pretty nice actually. I'm sorry I shouted at you, Mr. monk man. She rubbed her hand around her neck, a thin line of blood streaked across her palm. Or maybe it was this drug?

It was pretty hard to see with all the white fire around her arms.

"Woah." Carlie uttered in monotone. "Who died? Haha!" Carlie looked around and was only greeted with monks chanting hymns faster and faster.

"No, seriously guys, is there a corpse under your floorboards or something?"

Again, no answer. The white flames around her hands grew in intensity and began to climb up her arms.

"Okay it's...okay it's never gone this far before, it's...this doesn't seem right..." Carlie began to lose her composure as the flames danced all around her. Suddenly, a beam of light burst out of her chest. Carlie jolted forward as if taking a kick to the spine. She winced in...not pain per se but more...wrongness. Something was very wrong.

Carlie was immediately kicked out of her reverie, she quickly remembered that hey! That guy just jammed a fucking needle into her neck! "What. The FUCK. Did you put in me!?"

The bloodied man was beaming with delight.
"Well, the people on the streets like to call it Red Harmonic. But we prefer the name-"

"The Blood of God." Alan bellowed, his expression wild and feral.

"The blood of GooooaaAAAAGHD!?" Carlie wrapped her arms around her gut. It felt like something was trying to burst out of her. Why's it always got to be fucking cults!? A white inferno spun wildly around her, every colour of the rainbow flickered on the periphery of the flames. Why is this happening? This only ever happened when something was dead around and...

Something clicked in Carlie's head and shhheeeeee hated it.

"Hey, hypothetical question: This god of yours."

"Are they dead?"

Quiff man gave a cheesy grin as blood streamed out if his nostrils.

"Not for ~loooooooooong~!"

And then Carlie's head exploded!

Carlie's head swung back as a jet of white flame shot out of her. "FUCK! SHIT! AAAGGH!" she put her hand over her head to stop the light cascading out of her. "Fuck. Oh god my head. Does...does it look bad?" She turned towards the great stained glass window behind her and squinted at her reflection. A great crack had erupted out of her skull and a seemingly endless supply of white flame was shooting out like a punctured gas pipe.

Carlie turned toward the crowd of zealots and lunged towards Alan, she grabbed at his robes and looked u[ to him with desperation in her eyes. "Give me the fucking cure now! Give it to me now or I am going to die!"

Alan looked down at the pathetic, firey girl and smiled. "This is the cure. Soon you shall emerge from your prison of flesh and grace us once more, ELEVIN."


Carlie stumbled backwards as more beams of light pierced through her body. She could feel herself being torn apart from the inside. No. I don't want to die. I...I don't want to die.

Suddenly, she remembered. The pin. The communicator! Chad!

Oh god Chad.

Carlie reached into her pocket and pulled out the bronze pin. Every fiber of her being didn't want to this but she knew she had no options left.

"Chad! Please I need your help! You gotta come back! I'm dying! Please!"

There was a brief few seconds of silence which felt like an eternity. But then, the blank pin lit up! And then...

"Hi Carlie! It looks like your trying to contact me! Even though I gave you specific instructions to wait on my command! Nice one! I can't reach the communicator right now so please leave a message after the tone! Except, don't do that! And actually follow my orders next time! Chao!




Carlie's body was ripped to shreds at a massive column of light erupted from her form. Chad's pin clinked on the floor in a (somehow) insufferable fashion.


God it hurts being this good.

Chad neatly folded his robe and stuck it in some esoteric corner of some grimy back alley. A lesser man would of just dumped it in the trash but not Chad! He was smart enough to utilise every asset he had to its maximum capacity. Including people, especially people!

Chad had a shit eating grin plastered on his face as he walked down the darkened streets of the underground city. He was proud of himself, and rightfully so! He had his pet miracle worker right in his pocket. It didn't really matter if everything else went sour (which won't happen, because, come on, this is THE Chad Chaswell Charles we're talking about here), so long as Carlie was around to bring him back from the dead, he could coast all the way to the finish line. All she had to do was not throw her life away at the hands of some ghoulish cult, which Chad was confident she would not do. She was an idiot, but not that much of an idiot.

Yes, everything was going just as he had orchestra-

Suddenly, the whole underground lit up as a huge beam of light burst through the roof of nearby church.

If you looked closely enough in between the flashes of brilliant light, you would of seen Chad's eye twitching through his sunglasses.


The maelstrom of light that flooded the church slowly ebbed away. Carlie was gone, only tiny shreds of her clothes remained.

Alan dropped to his knees and uttered the most literal 'oh my God' anyone had ever said in the world.

Hanging in the air was large humanoid beast. It was covered from head to toe with brilliant white feathers, a few of which gently floated to the ground, reflecting an array of colours as they caught the light. Where it's arms should of been were instead gargantuan, violet wings, spreading out and reaching the opposite walls of the church. It's legs ended with great, fearsome talons made of pure light. It's face was devoid of all facial features, save for two massive black eyes. Though it had no mouth, it's voice reached throughout the building effortlessly.

"w h a t. . . "

Alan was in tears, Quiff man was in tears, everyone was crying and cheering and rejoicing. "We have waiting so long for this day. ELEVIN. You have finally returned to us! An age of eternal peace is finally upon us!"

And the holy Godess ELEVIN looked down on her people, so full of rapturous joy.

and she said:


Alan's face dropped.

Oh no.

She remembered fire. Her last memories of the play were a blurry haze, burdened by the heavy weight of the demon's geas and that vile compound forced upon her, but she remembered its last moments. The prince failing to kill Imago, his blade wavering at the last second. The crowd surging forward, onto the stage, demanding deliverance from the false Angels that had betrayed them. The heavy rope tightening around her wrists, around her waist, binding her to a stake. Firewood, tinder, kindling piled around her. The theater becoming an inferno, a crypt of smoke and blackened ash.

Lavi shuddered. She'd seen the others as captives in that-- place, the one with the demons who were just as awful and cruel as Imago was. What happened couldn't have been real. Lavi ran a hand over her wrists, feeling the deep bruises left by rope restraints. There was only a moment before she coughed, then keeled over onto her hands, frantically clearing her lungs of choking smoke. After what felt like a minute, her breath felt like it had returned to normal-- her lungs still burned, but she wasn't at the brink of death.

Somewhere, Imago still lived. She didn't know what to think, or what was real, but she knew that much. None of the others would believe her-- she would have to be the one to kill him.

After a moment to clear her head, Lavi finally pulled herself up. She immediately realized she was undressed-- the costume she had been forced into was gone.

A rush of anger washed over her. She spat on the ground. That flea-bitten mongrel prince would pay for what he did.

Lavi took another deep breath. Blind anger wouldn't help her now. She needed to focus.

She took stock of her surroundings-- an empty changing room, judging by the discarded clothing, sealed tinctures, and rows of mirrors. Unfamiliar music drifted in from another room, muffled by the walls, and she couldn't help but shudder at the prospect of being in another theater. There was a set of clothes folded over a chair, which she hazarded a guess and assumed were intended for her, given that they were more well-worn and practical than any of the costumes scattered around. As she finished changing, she took a glimpse of herself in the mirror.

When did I grow antlers?

She ran a hand through her hair, pressing against the base of the branches growing from her head. The two short branches tapered to a point, with a few smaller spurs and stalks splitting off to resemble something reminiscent of a deer's antlers. There was no mistaking her as anything other than sylvan-touched now-- the rest of her was human, or human enough outside the places where bark replaced skin and flesh gave way to wood. She looked down at her feet-- now human again, somehow, without the gnarled roots she had once had. Even with that small blessing, there was no hiding this. She should have been bothered, worried-- but Lavi felt more alive now than ever before.

A sharp knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. "Are you finished?"


"What is it you do, then," Acacia flatly asked.

Acacia was an imposing figure, tall and weatherworn. Deep scars ran across her face, and her sleeve was pinned up, obscuring a lost arm. She impatiently shifted and pressed her weight on a gnarled wooden staff. Layers of loosely-fitted garments made from faded black wool adorned her. Lavi shifted uneasily, trying to avoid looking at her-- she couldn't help but feel intimidated. She was hoping for some fresh air, not more conversation she felt ill-suited for.

"Well? Come on then, girl," she continued, when Lavi didn't respond. "You don't find yourself in the House of the Deer if you're useless."

Lavi huffed indignantly. "Useless?" she asked. Her outstretched hand waved over the floor as ethereal sparks flickered at her fingertips, ignoring her bruised wrists and pulling at air until it coalesced into a small, animated vortex of wind and smoke. Darker hollows formed along the surface, resembling crude eyes and a mouth, as the elemental quickly took shape.

"So, what were you asking about?" Lavi asked, allowing herself just a hint of pride.

Acacia sighed tetchily. "You have-- promise," she said, grabbing Lavi by the chin and pushing her face upwards and side to side, examining her.

"Ow, hey, stop that--"

"You have the makings of a druid," Acacia continued, ignoring her protests. Her eyes focused on the antlers protruding from Lavi's head, staring intently at them. "Your understanding of our magic is powerful, perhaps, but crude. You won't make it if this is all you can do."

"Wait. What do you mean, our magic?" Lavi asked.

The druid stared at her. "You-- you really don't know, do you." When Lavi gave a confused shrug, Acacia rubbed her temples. "Our magic draws from the world around us. Every spirit, every beast, the land and sea and sky-- it is through our devotion that they answer us and lend us their strength."


"As for you," Acacia interrupted, "you lack our devotion, but they still answer you because you are connected to them. That much is obvious. How doesn't concern me. But you can do much more than what you've shown me."

Lavi paused, taking a deep breath. Her gift was more than she had ever thought it would be. She trembled slightly, her mind weighing the responsibility she was now burdened with, thinking about how it would fall upon her to use this power properly. But she needed it. If she wanted to kill Imago, she would have to call upon strength beyond what she already had. If she wanted to no longer be the plaything of every prince and demon, she would need to become more than just a frightened peasant girl.

Just as she opened her mouth to respond, she saw Sam-- clothed in something new, and with features that seemed unfamiliar and that she couldn't quite place, but unmistakably the girl she met in the theater.


"I'm sorry it took me so long to find you," Sam finally said, after an awkward, lingering silence. Acacia had excused herself, leaving the two of them alone, waiting for the other to be the first to speak.

Lavi looked at her, curiously. She fidgeted with her hair, curling a loose strand in her finger. There was so much to talk about, she wasn't sure where to begin. "It's fine," she forced herself to reply, setting those thoughts aside. "I only just got here."

Sam shook her head. "I meant in the theater. Maybe if-- maybe if I found you earlier, you wouldn't have had to meet Chad, or go through any of what he put you through."

Lavi frowned at the mention of the prince. She had a name for him now, at least, although she doubted she'd ever deign to use it. "I was careless and he caught me off-guard. I don't think it'll happen again."

"It's just--" Sam looked away for a moment, away from the druid's soft, grey eyes. She reached into her pocket, taking out the pin she'd found on her robe. Her hand extended and grasped Lavi's hand tenderly, easing the the ruby badge into her grip. "--I just wish I had been there for you."

Lavi reluctantly let go, taking the pin and examining it carefully, before finally clasping it onto her new garments.

"Listen, Lavi--"

The druid perked up again, looking intently at her.

"I-- I love you."

Lavi smiled and laughed lightly. "I love you too," she said, unsure why Sam looked so hesitant over admitting this.

"No, you don't understand," Sam replied, shaking her head again. She paused, uncertain how to articulate herself. "I don't mean like that. I mean, I love you."
Ruby Glitter made very little progress on her wetwork assignment, but she was none too pleased when the Cockroach Man appeared again. At first, she fantasized the notions of folding him up like a pretzel and eating him right on the spot, but there was an uncharacteristic urgency in his voice.

“We…have a problem,” he stammered, wiping his forehead with a kerchief. “We need you back.”

Every syllable was like a cocktail of schadenfreude. Ruby went along with it.

The werewolf was politely escorted to the site of interest. A strange sort of bird-woman swooped around, her wingspan dwarfed the gaggle of robed figures that mobbed her. Some said figures were ranting and praying. Most were just crying. Righteously bemused, the werewolf glanced over at Melanchoria. The prophet did not have a look of confidence on her face.

“I…,” the Marconi matriarch said with no trace of irony. “Did not expect this.”

“Fuck fuck FUCK, The creature shrieked. She made an obvious effort of flailing but it came out more like refined gymnastics than a purposeful symbol of frustration. The few tethers that managed to cling on to her snapped off, not that they helped to hindered her anyway. “Fuck my life, fuck my entire ass. And – and. FUCK CHAD.”

The bird-woman flew off, her wings reflecting the lights and splendors of Ophidian Jade. Ruby cracked her knuckles and got to her – or would had gotten to her had Melanchoria not impeded her. She obliged. The werewolf watched in mild frustration as the bird-woman shrank into a white dot, occasionally blind-sided by a building. Ruby turned around to the elderly woman with a pout.

“S’not like her having wings is going to stop me.”

“Ruby, dear, you’re a werewolf. Hallowed magic is practically antithetical to you.”

“I could had done her in,” Ruby huffed. “I could had done her in good.”

Ruby would had asked why Melanchoria asked her to come back, but the prophet gave her the answer in the form of the proffered envelope before the words came even out of her mouth. Acacia Di-Capreo Linae, the envelope insisted in fine handwriting. Di-Capreo Linae – the House of Deer! Ruby would be ecstatic she remembered if she was not so confused.

“Thought you two were enemies. Bitter enemies.”

“That was a long time ago,” Melanchoria snapped. “Time heals all wounds. I know because I saw.”

“Oh!” Ruby snapped her fingers. “S’because of the Red Harmonium?”

The statement took the confidently stoic oracle off-guard. Ruby knew Melanchoria was a clairvoyant but she felt that she was starting to get a hold on her superior’s shortcomings. Personal shortcomings – like the fact Melanchoria was so focused on the future that the past dimmed in importance. The werewolf cloaked her smirk with her fingers, which aggravated the prophet to no end.

“Go! GO! You cur!”

“Alright! Alright!” Ruby laughed as she loped off to her destination. The Marconis seemed rather incompetent after this entire spectacle. She wondered if the House of Deer could fold a werewolf into their ranks.
It hurt.

Lavi’s eyes were kind, and warm, and soft, but Sam couldn’t see in them anywhere that the druid understood what was being said here. This was a confession. It wasn’t supposed to be like this; there were supposed to be - fireworks, and confetti, a, a parade, maybe, but Sam remembered that she hated parades, and a great commotion and the roof falling in and a lot of dust everywhere and all of a sudden she wasn’t holding Lavi’s hands anymore, and instead she was under a lot of painfully heavy timber. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!

There were shouts outside, but they all seemed very far away, some part of Sam surmised. Some old, unexcised remnant of Sam muttered under his breath about basements and crush syndrome and men being saved by a cocoon of pianos (did she hear that one right?), but her main train of thought was still riding in circles: “she loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not…”

A petal fell through a gap in the broken timbers.

“She loves me, she loves me not…” Sam tried not to cry, or to feel the growing pain in her leg. She’d have to cadge a leg brace from a healthy donor, or something, or at least a really long sock... “She loves me, she loves me not…” It never used to bother him, back then, back when another piece of clothing was another shield behind her and reality, but it bothered her now to lose herself again in other people, other clothes, when there was this great big question to be answered: “She loves me, she loves me not…”

Up above: movement in the faint light filtering down through the wooden ceiling. Lavi’s voice, a murmur. But too faint to be heard. Up above, the flapping of great, majestic wings, though Sam only caught a glimpse of brilliant white. In addition, a brief honking that drowned everything else out for a second:


Well then.

...”She loves me, she loves me not…”

The obscenities faded into the distance, but the sound of shifting timber intensified. Through an ever-widening gap, Sam saw a faceless behemoth take hold of a squared-off log, flinging it bodily aside. She blinked. No, that was definitely a faceless, dusty behemoth, brown with dirt and splinters. Astride its shoulder:

“She loves me…”


Lavi’s golem pulled a delirious, muttering figure gently from the wreckage. Sam’s red eyes were closed, and one of her legs lay bloody and twisted where wood had crushed it. She was still murmuring when the golem laid her on the shattered floorboards before its master.

Acacia stood behind them both, surveying the damage. “We may need you sooner than we thought, girl.” The old druid raised a hand to one of the broken walls, and new growth began to sprout from the exposed wood. She turned away from the rescue team, concentrating on the repairs: “Who could have done this? What was that in the sky? So many questions.”

Lavi ignored her. All her attention was on the quivering body in her golem’s arms. The fine clothes were torn almost to shreds, and pale skin showed through the gaps. It didn’t look as if Sam’s skin had ever seen the sun, she realized.

She was shaking, too, now that she thought about it, as she extended a branch - well, a hand - towards the pale body. The rustling of leaves hung potential in the air, a sound not quite realized. The smell of loam lay immanent on the-

“Just kiss the girl,” Acacia blurted, then finished lamely, “girl.”

“It’s Lavi.”


Ruby trudged past the sickly-smelling trees, up towards the partially-collapsed log cabin above her. Even mildly wrecked by the ridiculous swearing bird-god, the hunting lodge stood proud above the rabble below, almost touching the rock roof above it.

Ruby hated it. But this was the address neatly printed on the back of her Acacia-bound letter, so up she went, along the gravel path. The stones were pointy and uncomfortable, and a little plaque professed this discomfort to be therapeutic and acupunctural. Or some shit. Ruby realized all of a sudden that she didn’t care.

As she ascended to the front door, it fell out of its frame in front of her. Little waving twigs flailed in the frame for a moment and then gave up.

She yelled, “Mail call!” and waved the letter in the doorway. Almost instantly, a hand came out and snatched it.

Acacia glowered at the werewolf in the door. “Well, you aren’t a vampire, so let yourself in. Who’s this from?” She glanced at the silver dog-badge. “Marconi?”

“Melancholia Marconi. Who’s that over there,” Ruby changed tacks suddenly, noticing the extra - and familiar-smelling - druid in the room. As an additional effect, she completely lost interest in the letter. “Hello! You seem like you’re having a moment!”

Lavi was.

“I think you ought to cover that one up a little,” Ruby added, now leaning over Sam’s prone body, “also I think I was supposed to kill her?”

Evidently acting entirely on reflex, Sam sat straight up in the golem’s arms, punched through its back and duck-rolled into another room, shedding fabric the whole time. There was a thud and an ‘oof’ as the roll ended with some solid object. The lodge creaked in protest.

“Well, she’s obviously too skilled for me to kill. Mission accomplished,” Ruby added hastily, and brushed dirt out of all her fur.

Lavi blinked several times, mostly because there was dirt all over her face, but also because she needed a few seconds to catch up with current events. Turnips never had any of these problems, she thought for a moment, turnips just sat there and grew until you needed them to rise up and do household chores.

“Well, I better go report back to my boss, who probably saw all this coming!” Ruby turned to go, not missing a beat when the floorboards grew up to hold one foot in place. “Well, I better stay here a while and rest for a bit! It’s been a long walk!”

”This letter,” Acacia began, waving the sheets of paper, “Melancholia gave this to you personally?”

“Yep!” Ruby tugged at her foot ineffectually. “Swear on this silver badge! Actually, speaking of which, I’ve been considering a change in allegiances, are you hiring and are your badges made of something nicer, like bronze, or something?”

Acacia narrowed her eyes. “House?”

“Vermilsang. Lyconia Vermilsang, at your service, but please just call me Ruby, and could you let go of my foot, it’s starting to get pins and needles?”

“I’ll consider it.” Acacia gestured at Lavi. “Girl!”


“Get your… other girl. Melanchoria wants to hunt that bird-thing. She says it’ll wreck the Jade economy if we don’t buckle in and deal.” The old druid looked around at the smashed ceiling. “Wrecked… ha. The old bitch,” she glanced at Ruby, “no offense. The old… oh, mess that. Melanchoria wants to let bygones be bygones, even after what her house did to us; apparently it’ll all come good in the end.”

“Will it?” Lavi asked.

“If we get to the bird first, it will.” Acacia thumped a wall panel, and a hidden shelf emerged, stocked with hunting gear. “House of the Deer,” she spat derisively, as she hefted and sighted down a rifle, “Please. As if we were just going to stand around and be hunted.” She turned to address the motley crew: “Di Capreo-Linae. Remember our name, because it means more than just-

“Doesn’t it just mean ‘of the deer’?” Ruby interrupted. “It’s not that deep.”


“Look when you’re a werewolf you tend to learn a lot about taxonomy, okay?”

More silence.

She huffed. “Don’t judge me.”
Even in the alleyways, even out of sight of—that thing—Chad could still feel the draft of the huge breathy wingbeats against his face.

The screams and screeches almost seemed to say his name. He shuddered.

Teller let out a long, rough sigh and snapped an antenna back into a tiny radio(?).

The endless party on the streets of Ophidian Jade seemed to have come to a close.

“So, does this have anything to do with the Leviathan's--”

Teller shook their head vigorously.

“The best placement for the origin point of this locates it at a” They sighed. “The religion this town finds...”

“So we're going...”

“Not there. A strike team is already en route, although I'm not sure I like their chances...we're following up something smaller.

“An informant says a Marconi agent was seen entering the head lodge of Di Capreo-Linae.”
Teller paused for Chad to react. Chad went for surprise and concern. It seemed to have been the right answer. They went on.

“They were within the primary blast radius, so we wouldn't be expecting any action from them—but with their old enemy sending a messenger...the Marconis play a complex game, and they often know more of the cards in play than we do. It's got to mean something.”

They shook their head again. “We can't risk a major move, not in this chaos.”


The room was dark. Chad rubbed at his eyes behind his sunglasses. It was a dark, carved dark wood and plush carpet and good-for-the-era heating room and he rubbed at his eyes when they threatened to close.

“So you have you contacted them or not?”

“Patience.” The voice smirked from behind a mask that was behind a grille. Even though they were just an underling. “As you must understand, recent events have caused things to go a bit haywire...”

“That's what I'm here about. You and I both know I can fix this.”

“On the contrary, we feel you have already fixed things...or at least, altered them suitably. Subverting a prophecy can be messy work.”

“And what have you been up to?”

“Thanks to your tips, we have put full forces into sorting out that quite literally inferior drowning cult...that is, we did until the monster's emergence. An unexpected result, but interesting for precisely that reason...

“Now, we ought to try and pin down the whereabouts of the other outliers now that things have changed—ah.”

A bell rang. Its echo reverberated in Chad's skull and he shook it once.

“That will be our refreshments. Do have some coffee, won't you?”

Chad poured milk and sugar into the hot dark cup and stirred. If the voice raised an eyebrow, he didn't care. He blew on it and sipped.

“Well, Nameless will still be in that garbage dump right now...”


A white bird was flying over the city. Nameless watched it with the impassivity of those whose priorities in life are a very narrow spectrum. A man was speaking and gesturing in the piles of--“Not junk.

“No, no, not junk at all! Not when you really stop to look at it. It's amazing, you know, amazing what a city will throw out—right into the trash—especially a magical city such as this one—amazing,” He held up a broken mirror, a single scissor blade, “Amazing what you can find and no one else would even think to stop and look at it.”


“...and at this point,” He sighed amusedly, “Sam will have followed Lavi to that hunting lodge she ends up at.”


There was Lavi. Plus...horns? And...he squinted through the binoculars. Sam? No damn clothes on, as per usual. He sighed. And an older druid-looking lady. And a fucking pink-haired wolf girl.

“What the hell do you see? You're making some interesting faces.”

Chad stuttered, stopped. “Just look for yourself.”

Teller took the binoculars.
“Hmm. Seems like a real paa-aarty. Too bad the resolution on the spying-glyph can't push farther...those walls are solid wood. Not solid enough to keep us from looking, but pretty solid.

“Now why did you look so surprised? Anyone you know?”
They grinned. “The naked girl, or the wyfwolf?”

“I've never seen that pink thing before in my life.” Hissed Chad, then regretted the slip. Teller raised an eyebrow.


“Yeah...I've seen the girl before.” He sighed. “And the antlered one. They're—well. We didn't part on the best of terms.”

“Hmm. But you do know them. Any idea why they're helping the Marconis or the Di Capreo-Linae?”

Chad laughed low in his throat. “Them? They probably fell ass-backwards into the situation. They don't really think or plan, they just do what's in front of them. And that ends up being what whoever finds them first wants them to do.” He smiled and spread his hands. “You're not looking at a pair of masterminds.”

“I see. Are they dangerous?”

Chad laughed. “Not in my experience.”

“I think I'm beginning to understand...well, anyways.” Teller seemed amused.

“Who are the...people...with them?”

“The older one is the head doe of the house. The pink wyfwolf...well, they come into the city sometimes. You have a history with shapeshifters?”

“Do they usually that?”

Teller shrugged.
“She's a gaudy one. Probably just doing all this for out for her. Wolves don't have what you would call 'limits.' There's a reason we don't like to let them go around unsupervised...”

Chad let this sink in. Teller quickly spoke into the police radio what Chad could only assume was a code-shortened version of what had just been discussed. “So, what do we do next?”

Teller smiled and took out a thermos.

“Make yourself comfortable. We're going to wait for the right moment.”