The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]

The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
Re: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
Originally posted on MSPA by SleepingOrange.

The doctor and the treasurer had long since been dismissed and the young wizard shooed off. That left only the queen and her security chief alone in the little side room with the princess. Little Lillian, for her part, was sniffling and hiccupping near-constantly, and her red-rimmed eyes and blotchy cheeks threatened to lapse back into full-blown tears at any moment. The security chief was doing his level best to get her to repeat what she’d told him and elaborate, but so far he hadn’t had much to show for it.

“So,” he said, plastering on his best non-threatening smile, “We’re all alone now, and everyone’s perfectly safe. Why don’t you tell Her Majesty what’s wrong, alright?”

It would have been hard to call the series of noises that followed words, but they were certainly trying to be. The jumbled mess of syllables and keening culminated in a wail, and Princess Lillian broke down. Again. It was too much for the queen to bear, and she pulled the girl close, cradling her head against her shoulder while rocking and shushing her.

“It’s alright,” she murmured. “Nothing bad is going to happen to anyone, okay?”

As the soothing prattle wore on, Laguja sighed internally. This whole charade was a trying reminder of why it had been willing to spend an entire century waiting for its servant to be returned to it; without a compliant host to channel its power, it couldn’t simply hijack the girl’s body and have her deliver its message. It had been simple enough to conjure a couple of illusory loose-lipped assassins, but actually getting that information relayed… If the queen and her reign were to survive, time was probably of the essence; yet, here the pincushion was, relying on a hysterical human child to be its mouthpiece. Exasperatedly, it began subtly altering the girl’s mood and slowing her breathing.

Fortunately, despite the host of distressing implications and complications inherent in Laguja’s bifurcation, it did give it the ability to tackle problems from multiple fronts. If all went well, the queen might ultimately not require evacuation at all.


The ancient woman paused for a moment to admire the emerging stars; it was one of her favorite sights, watching the sky suffuse itself with twilight as the sun set behind the cathedral. The star-flecked black on the far horizon slid through shades of azure and ultramarine until it met the cheerful blue of the church’s dome, seeming for a moment every day to simply continue from the heavens to the earth, a literal manifestation of the God’s gift of existence. That instant never failed to bring a song to her heart, and she pushed through the big double doors smiling even as the sky darkened and the burnished dome reflected the twinkling cosmos.

Inside, Triumphan was shuffling about the empty worship hall, extinguishing candles; a being of lesser stature might have needed a snuffer, but the priest’s massive frame let him simply reach for all but the most distant wicks and snap them dark between his claws. As he heard the door opening, he turned towards the sound, surprise melting quickly into his surprisingly-warm-for-a-reptile smile as he recognized the figure hobbling in.

“Abbess!” He exclaimed. “What a wonderful surprise to see you tonight. I wish you’d warned me of your coming. I’d have had something prepared.”

The abbess meandered towards him, smiling and leaning heavily on her cane. “Oh, nonsense. There’s no need to go to any trouble. This is a purely social call anyway.”

“Well, at least let me get some light in here for you,” he rumbled, fumbling in his robe for a bundle of sulphur-heads. “You caught me just as I was leaving.”

She shook her head. “No, no, you have rituals to perform. Don’t let me get in your way.”

With a wave of her hand and a quiet prayer, she called on a minor boon; her sclera began to glow a faint and gentle gold, and she blinked rapidly as she became accustomed to her enhanced sight.

“No sense wasting wax and time on an old woman.”

Hesitating slightly, Triumphan returned to his work. After a few more flames met their ends under his brisk ministrations, he spoke up.

“So to what do I owe the honor of your visit this evening?”

“Oh, like I said, it’s just a social call. Came to see how you are, how everything’s holding up.” There was a pause as she looked up to take in a mother-of-pearl-inlaid triptych, free hand resting on the small of her back. “This place becomes more glorious every year. It makes me glad its care was entrusted to you.”

“No expense or sacrifice is too great in the service of the God.”


The pair of them proceeded around the room in opposite directions, she unhurriedly appreciating the renovations and additions that had been made under Triumphan’s direction, he serenely extinguishing the remaining lights and occasionally shooting glances her direction.

As she rounded the altar, she bent reverentially before the God’s image to a chorus of pops and creaks. As she gazed contemplatively at the statue’s base, Triumphan suddenly raised his voice.

“In fact,” he blurted, "Why not come back into the vestibule and I can show you some of the pieces I've had commissioned?"

Head lowered, the abbess murmured "Let me pay my respects, first."

Instead of closing her eyes in silent contemplation as she would normally have done, though, the old women simply squinted, staring at the statue's feet and the plinth it sat on. She stared until her eyes watered and kept staring, golden eyes glinting in the rising gloom, looking at and through the stone.

Triumphan strode heavily through the aisle, unhurried steps belying his mounting panic. As he stepped around his pulpit and opened his mouth as though to speak, she slowly turned around and raised her head; her eyes met his, betraying a heartbroken sadness and betrayal.

"It's true, then."

"What do you–"

She cut him off, whirling as fast as she could back to the statue and brushing it aside with a flash of gold and a murmur of the old tongue. She pointed at the trapdoor with one gnarled finger and rounded on the priest again.

"This isn't just treason, it's blasphemy! You, a man of the cloth, denying the divine mandate. Defying our scriptures."

"It's not so simple as–"

"Then you're telling me there's not a cache of weapons and a cadre of warriors down there? That you don't plan to make war, that you don't plan to abandon the strictures of peace?"

Triumphan was silent, his arms crossed.

"Make peace with yourself and your sins, Father. This is... This is unforgivable."

"The king's actions are the unforgivable, Abbess. He has lost his divine favor through his folly."

She strode angrily towards him, her limp only accentuating the stamping of her feet.

"You have no right to decide the God's will! The fact that you could even say that!"

She drew level with him, the colossal lizard looking placidly down at the fuming old woman and making no move to rebuff her.

"And you have let your long life set you in your ways. You've forgotten how to serve His glory, and merely repeat the chants every day because you don't know anything else. You are no holy woman. You are a puppet of your own beliefs."

"How DARE you!"

Her shout drowned out the click of the trapdoor opening, and she probably wouldn't have bothered to look even if it hadn't.

"You are a warmonger, Triumphan. It's clear to me now you only worship yourself, and it sickens me to know that your flock has been fed your lies for all these years."

She began to stride past him, and he made no move to stop her.

"I will go to the palace. Perhaps in my absence you should pray for the guidance you have long since lost."

Even in the midst of discovering that the priest had been plotting a rebellion and abandoning what she saw as the mandates of their religion, the abbess would never have stopped to consider that he might harm her. It was probably naive and certainly unwise, but in the end it turned out to be accurate. As the hail of bolts slammed into her back, her face locked into a final expression of surprise and pain before she fell to the floor.

Triumphan crossed the floor and knelt by her body, closing her eyes before turning to the creature that had emerged from below.

"Did you have to kill her?"

It slotted a number of wickedly-barbed iron projectiles into the repeating crossbow it had just emptied.

"Would have betrayed cause, could not be reasoned with. Unlikely to be restrained successfully with clerical abilities. Was the only way to prevent disastrous warning of royal family."

"Hmm." It was all probably true, but it still felt wrong to murder her in cold blood.

"One life a small price to pay to save country from false king's tyranny. Blood must be spilled for salvation."

He stood back up, absentmindedly brushing his claws on his robes. "Of course. I would have liked to show more of the church the light after this night, but... In the end, the few must be sacrificed for the many."

The squid-thing holstered its weapon and nodded. "Mission must succeed. Divine mandate falls to us. Misguided superiors an acceptable price."

"What worries me now," Triumphan rumbled thoughtfully, "Is that she can't have been the only one who knew. Even setting aside how she found out..." His mind briefly flashed back to the strange pirate woman from earlier in the evening. "She wouldn't have kept it all to herself. And even if she did, she came here to confirm what she heard, which meant that whoever told her knows. And could tell someone else."

"Events already in motion. Cannot be stopped by early warning. Possibility of mole grave, but does not ultimately matter."

"No. The revolt must move forward. But I fear we may have to begin sooner than we hoped. If the police-houses have been warned, they'll be ready, and they'll be massing the palace guards too. We can no longer assume we have the advantage of surprise, and we can't afford to lose time crippling the infrastructure before we attack."

"Believe we should move straight to strike against castle?"

"Yes." He paused for a moment, contemplating the corpse that was staining his processional carpet. "Send a few of your explosives experts to police stations to keep them frightened and busy, but we're going to divert most of our manpower to the direct assault."

He began to stride out of the church, purpose strengthening with each step.

"We will attack immediately, before they have time to prepare."


The queen was still holding Lillian, but by now the girl had lapsed into silence; her mother was having a hard time coming to grips with the situation herself, unable to form a cogent thought or say whatever the security chief was expectantly waiting for her to say. Eventually, she calmed herself as much as she could and spoke with only a minimal quaver.

“We’ll have to tell the king.”

The man shook his head. “We’ve already spoken to His Majesty. As soon as the princess told us what she could, he was advised of the situation.”

“Well, I still want to be able to talk with him about–“

“With all due respect, Your Majesty, he has already made a decision, and time is of the essence.”

The queen narrowed her eyes.
“What decision?”

“We suspect – that is to say, he believes – that given the occasion, you are the main target of whatever treasonous elements…”

He trailed off, not wanting to further upset Lillian, but it was too late. The girl wailed and clung tighter to her mother, who squeezed her and shot her security chief a glare.

“I demand you bring me to my husband, Davidson.”

“I’m sorry, Majesty, but I have my orders.”

“What. Orders.”

“An illusionist has been dispatched to take your place at the ball. Your children have been evacuated in three groups, and as soon as you’ve been briefed, I’m to take you and Princess Lillian out of the castle and to a safehouse in the country.”

“And what of my husband?”

“The king intends to stay and oversee whatever efforts become necessary to repel the usurpers.”

The queen quickly bit something back, intent on not upsetting her daughter further, but inwardly she fumed. How could he put himself in danger like that? And how could he treat her like this? Their whole marriage and their whole reign had been a cooperative endeavor, but as soon as danger reared its head...

She steeled her voice as best she could.
“Take me to see him, or I’ll go myself.”

“I’m sorry, Majesty, but I have my orders and your escort is already being assembled.”

Throughout the whole exchange, Laguja had been considering its position. On the one hand, it seemed that the queen had less actual power than it had expected; on the other, her importance was as a symbol, not an actual monarch. Besides, if the king was killed in the coming rebellion, she would take full control of the throne. The evacuation was pragmatic enough, and close to what Laguja had hoped to accomplish in any case. Staying with and protecting the queen seemed to be as safe a choice as attempting to get itself into the king’s hands or trying to get him to leave as well, and it lacked the difficulty of actually transferring itself to him. It decided to simply stay where it was; there was no need to go to the trouble for an uncertain reward, and things were playing out satisfactorily as they were.


The pair of Eureka and Syvex approached the incongruous door cautiously. Syvex in particular had a hard time seeing much inside, given the lighting, but at first glance there didn’t seem to be anyone immediately obvious. Or anything for that matter, setting aside the sudden appearance of some sort of door-based portal or shed with a pocket dimension inside it.

They both edged closer, peering in for any sign of life or movement. After a few moments, Syvex spoke up.

“Let me check this out. I think it’s more important that you figure out what’s going on. Where the others are.” He paused briefly, before continuing with “How we can stop this.”

Eureka rolled her eyes. Syvex had been acting weirdly this whole round, but it was understandable. She guessed. It wasn’t as though she particularly cared where the zombie guy had gone anyway, so she flipped the book back open to where she’d left off. Blah blah blah, night of the revolution, blah blah tree guy warns the guards, blah blah blah…

“Hang on…”

Syvex turned around to face her, which was always a little unsettling given his lack of eyes.

“They didn’t die, now. Or at least it doesn’t say they did.”

“What? What happened, then?”

“Uh, one second…”

a group of individuals including a colossal treant approached the castle guards claiming to have knowledge of a coming attack on the royal family

they were of course detained believed to be dissidents or liars as well as suspected of having been unlawfully using the palace grounds

but shortly thereafter the guard captain received word that their story was corroborated by other sources

a plan had been revealed to assassinate the king and queen on the night of her birthday although I do not know with any specificity what other sources the guards had

it is my belief that by this point in the evening events were already underway with the security team acting on whatever intelligence they had received

but they and the royal family did their best to maintain the charade of nonchalance and safety to their people until fighting actually began

notably the apparent absence of all the—

It went on much longer, but didn’t seem to be about to mention anything relevant to the tree guy and his group. Eureka looked up.

“Someone backed them up, or something. The guards believed them because someone else said the samestuff was going to happen. But… We didn’t do anything, we were just standing here.”

Syvex shrugged a couple pairs of arms.
“Well, it makes sense that we wouldn’t be the only ones who could change things. Ripper and the pincushion have to be out there doing things, too.”

“So…” She bit her lip for a few seconds before continuing. “This thing’s useless, then, if it’s going to keep changing every time someone steps on an ant or whatever.”

“Nnno,” he said hesitantly. “I don’t think so. It’s still information, which is important if we want to change things. Or even just save ourselves. We just have to keep a close eye on it and act quickly, I think. Besides, it’ll let us know if we screw up, so we can fix our own mistakes before they spiral out of control, right?”

“Mmm.” She wasn’t convinced, but she really didn’t want to argue with him right now. About anything, really. He seemed to have perked up quite a lot since she mentioned things changing, anyway. It must have been a load off his mind knowing the tree and stuff survived, for whatever reason.

“Come on, you should keep reading.”

She gestured at the incongruous living room in its tiny shed. “But what about all… this?”


The pincushion that hadn’t attached itself to the queen and her entourage had changed hands a number of times since its discovery in the attic. The little wizard boy had served his purpose well, ensuring Laguja had been on the right places to whisper the right rumors in the right ears: the clergy in particular had been ripe ground for counterrevolutionary manipulation, with most of them either staunchly royalist or equally fervently rebellious; with any luck, the opposing factions would set about attacking each other, and the resulting infighting would weaken or delay the attacks on the palace.

From there, it had been simple to sniff out those minds at the party that had foreknowledge of or were involved in the revolt and creatively spread misinformation and misdirection among them. Any given person wouldn’t make much of a difference, and surely most of the anti-royalist forces were outside the palace and thus outside Laguja’s realm of influence, but perhaps with enough of them working at cross purposes and believing lies, things might swing just that bit more in its favor.

Once it had satisfied itself of its meddling and deemed the boy was no longer useful, it had gotten itself passed off to his grandfather, then to a mage specializing in antiquities, then a member of the collegiate council. The palace guards were hesitant to trust anyone given the clandestine nature of the opponent they were about to face, but they were even more afraid of what might happen if they were to be attacked without securing the wizards’ support first. With reluctance and trepidation but supported by an unheard mental voice, they’d contacted the chancellor, who had convened an emergency session of the council; it hadn’t been hard: most of the higher-ranking mages had already been at the party, the royal family having long since learned that it paid to keep powerful magic users feeling important.

Many of the council members were initially reluctant to cooperate, more because of the college’s long-standing noninterventionism in affairs of state than due to rebel leanings or influence; perhaps those council members who did support the revolt had simply stayed away, knowing what was to happen, or there really weren’t many wizards who cared enough about the kingdom and its leadership to bother with that sort of thing. Either way, it was a relief to Laguja, who was hesitant to overtly exert its influence on the single group of people most likely to detect it; if it didn’t have to mentally subdue a sect of revolutionary mages, then it wouldn’t do anything to reveal itself. It was easy enough to persuade the council through more mundane means: the urgings of the more gung-ho council members combined with the reminder that refusing the king’s orders would in fact be treason were more than enough to persuade all but the most staunchly staid wizards.

“King and country require us, and there is no higher calling!” shouted one, her bracelets jangling angrily as she gesticulated.

“If we can do anything to prevent as much bloodshed as we can…” mused another, drumming his glowing fingers on the hastily-appropriated interim council table.

“I knew I should have stayed home tonight,” grumbled an old honorary councilman who had barely been persuaded to come.

“Enough,” said the president eventually. “We are agreed. Our orders will aid the palace guard however they require it. Anyone who sees fit to disobey me or their king will face the full force of the law and our own charter.”

She paused to let her edict sink in, then opened her mouth to continue. That was when the first explosion shook the air.


Ripper looked at the cloudy and darkening sky above her. How much time had passed while she was in the future? A life of piracy hadn’t given her much chance to theorize on the nature of time travel; it wouldn’t have done her much go to in any case, not knowing for certain how exactly the Ambitus phenomenon in particular worked. Still, the sunlight was still just visible on the horizon, somewhere about where it had been when she left it last. Couldn’t have been long. It was probably best to assume that if it had been five minutes since the round started, it’d be five past when she showed up in the past or the future. Right? That’s what it looked like, anyway.

That gave her the better part of an hour to track down the Paige lass before the padre and his men attacked the police stations. Even if she’d seen the palace still standing herself, that didn’t mean it was set in stone, right? She just had to do something different from what she’d done last time. Whatever that was. Come to think of it, was there one of her here and one in the future, or just her moving back and forth? Because if it was just the one, that meant the revolution hadn’t torn the place down because it hadn’t happened yet, because she hadn’t been there. Or…

No, she had to stow that kind of thinking. It didn’t get her anywhere. She had an hour to find and help the spider woman and get herself down to wherever the Red District was and knock some heads. For the good of the people, of course! She told herself for the umpteenth time that the beating in her chest and the tightness in her throat were just from the excitement and stress of it all and stalked into the night. Before she could find Paige, she had to have something to help her with, right?

Though the increasingly dark sky and increasingly late hour meant there were fewer wealthy travelers still on their way to the party, the streets certainly weren’t dead. Even on another night, the Blue District was prosperous enough that it wouldn’t have been a great difficulty to find a nice fat pheasant to pluck, and a mugger with Ripper’s enthusiasm had no absolutely no problem. In no time at all, she had more than enough to get the poor old charity case out of her slump and back to work housing the needy. Sure, probably more of the haul than should’ve disappeared into the core, and certainly more than she’d intended, but… Someone had to pay the piper, right? What Paige was getting would still be worth more than the few dubloons she probably needed to pick herself back up. It’d have to be; Ripper couldn’t really afford to spend more time on collecting baubles to give out.

With an armful of wealth and a heart full of gold, she headed back to where she’d first seen the poor girl. Couldn’t have gone far. It hadn’t been too long, and she didn’t seem like the sort who’d have too many places to be. She certainly wouldn’t be expected up at that damn ball. Someone who could get an aerial view – say, someone with a jetpack – would have an easy time finding the creamy little sore thumb that she was.

As it turned out, she was holed up in an alley near the cathedral. Looking at the wretched thing, all alone in the dark with no real home to call her own, made Ripper’s blood boil; it was a good thing she didn’t need to be in the future right now, because with constant reminders of how the royals had done the common man wrong, she didn’t think she’d be able to calm herself down enough. It didn’t occur to her to wonder whether this was Paige’s de facto home or just somewhere she happened to be skulking around, and it didn’t matter. She shouldn’t have had to be there either way.

The pirate landed directly in front of the clockwork lady, much to the latter’s surprise.

“You’re the one–“

Ripper thrust an load of jewelry and a pouch full of brocade coinage towards her.

“’Ere. Take it.”

Paige backed away suddenly, putting her palms up. She’d spent too long in the Blue District to trust anyone trying to thrust sudden wealth on her – not that it had happened before – especially if they looked like Ripper did. She didn’t need to be the one caught with the victim’s possessions if the police were in hot pursuit, didn’t need to be involved with some kind of fencing scheme, didn’t need angry people without much in the way of manners coming to look for what was theirs.

“I’m not looking for any trouble,” she stammered, trying to seem nonthreatening and looking for an avenue to run.

“No, hold fast there, lass. I know you don’t know me yet, but I’m a friend. I got this for you. For yer charity. So’s you can get back on yer feet and keep to helping people.”

The Countess’s eyes flicked off and back on with a whirring noise. This was a case of mistaken identity then? That was a lot safer, and a lot easier to turn to her advantage. Besides, someone who could mistake her for anyone else was probably far too addled to be a danger to anyone.

“Oh, really?” She hesitated for a moment then took a shot in the dark, her glib tongue and finely-honed talent for manipulation taking over. “I’ve been destitute for so long I had nearly forgotten about all that.”

“I know. You told me all about it. I just wanted to help before things got too far gone. Want you to take care of people so they don’t have to rely on some rich bastard to be in a good mood that day.”

Ripper spat distastefully as she finished, while Paige eyed the proffered riches hungrily.

“Yes, I can’t wait to get back to… feeding the hungry.” She ventured. “Helping those in need, who can’t help themselves. I can’t thank you enough, uh…” She trailed off, realizing she didn’t have a way to finish the sentence.

“Just think of me as a friend. I reckon I’ll be seeing you around, Paige. Though maybe as not for a while.”

Ah. This person knew her name. That was… Unsettling and problematic, but it was too late to back out of things now with her hands filled with gold. Before she could open her mouth to respond, an explosion rang out above the quiet skies of the city. Both women started and looked upwards with shock, but Ripper quickly muttered to herself, “No, it’s too soon. What’s going on?”

She literally rocketed off into the night, leaving the Countess standing alone, significantly richer and significantly more confused. She watched the vanishing flame for a few moments, then looked down at her spoils. It was probably worth it, regardless of what was to come. Probably.

From behind her, a voice slithered out into air.

“She’s not the only one, you know.”


It was dark in the carriage. Crossing the pair of bridges that lead away from the palace would be impossible to really do inconspicuously given the central and obvious nature of the only way over the ravine, but there was still no need to draw extra attention to themselves. Inside was the queen and her daughter, her physician, and a single battlemage; the security team had decided that as long as she was kept out of sight and a decoy monarch was installed, they'd have a better chance of keeping the queen safe with a small, mobile group than a larger and better-armed one. The coach drivers had of course been replaced by her personal guards, but it was still only minimal protection.

Laguja would have made the same call itself, and probably would have taken care to influence events such that things had panned out this way if they hadn't already looked like they were going to. If worst came to worst, it could almost certainly coerce the mage into using its powers to hide them or save the queen. Or even gotten someone more disposable to do it, in a pinch. Better that it could rely on secrecy and misdirection than the fumbling brute force of the masses; that strength would come in handy later, but now was a time for subterfuge. A time to ensure that an enraged queen rose from the ashes of her sundered rule and united her people. A time to gain influence and gather sway. A time to build, and eventually to strike back against the Prestidigitator and his ilk.

Of course, there was an even more immediate "now" than all that. For the moment, it had little to do but observe as the events it had set into motion played out. There wasn't much it could do to influence the success or failure of the revolt from where it was, but it shouldn't need to. For now, there were no more plans to make until the situation changed; without a scheme to hatch or a puppet to lead, it set about idly exploring the minds of its current charges, seeking to better understand them and their levers for when a time to pull them one way or the other came.

For the most part, there was little special about any of the dull little humans it had collected. It was a bit disappointing, honestly, to have ended up with such an uninspiring person to build a monarchy around; still, Laguja understood that her utility would be as a symbol, not a person, and as long as it ensured she didn't hang herself at the first opportunity, she would do fine. The others were similarly mundane, if less limp and fretful; just normal people, with normal lives. Something felt odd about their memories, the deeper it looked, but it couldn't really place it. Everything was internally consistent and logically connected. It simply couldn't shake the feeling that some of their lives had been built backwards from their personalities, events defining themselves as the god looked at them rather than akways having existed and effected the personalities themselves. It was strange, but was probably just a consequence of having been split; it was simply having a harder time than usual accessing their histories, and personalities were more vividly written in their minds than the past was. Just an issue of the method it used to gain the information, not a quirk of the information itself. At least, that's what Laguja told itself; then, it touched the doctor's mind.

It was Riko.

It was unequivocally the man Laguja had followed and abandoned hours ago. Every aspect of his psyche and personal mental signature were there; it could be no-one else. Laguja was not capable of making such a mistake. And yet, the man's memories were entirely foreign, completely at odds with facts the pincushion knew to be true. Things it had experienced. This was Riko, the same Riko it had known, but... His life had been completely different. It should have been impossible. But there it was. Something about it shook Laguja to the core; this was all wrong.

But before it could chase that train of thought further, it was shaken back to reality by the sound of the explosion.

Originally posted on MSPA by MrGuy.

The sky high above the city was illuminated by three things. One was the full moon, carrying a slight yellowish tint and peeking through a thin covering of clouds. The second was the expanding collection of explosions centered on the palace gates, and the last the billowing flames a pirate was using to approach the second.

String me up, Ripper thought. Something bad happened. Someone must’ve caught wind of it, or… or some idiot went in early, or… gah, heave it all! She took solace in the fact that she was at least approaching quickly; the jetpack was certainly valuable in that regard. Naturally, her reaction to the blaring klaxon that interrupted this thought was an unpleasant one. She smacked the side of her sputtering jetpack, silencing it. “Avast, y’damned thing! You’ll be dinin’ on rocks before the night’s done.” Grumbling, she slowly descended to the ground, breaking into a run when she reached it.

The sound of the fighting was all but deafening, the explosions sending out thunderous vibrations that rocked the ground beneath her boots and caused her mask to shudder in resonance. Quickly, she pulled out the gun and baton she’d stolen, and scanned the battlefield, her gaze catching on Triumphan; or, rather, the man quickly approaching him from behind. She immediately swung the phaser towards him and fired off three rounds; he collapsed, crying in agony at the burning hole gouged into his shoulder, clawing at the blistered skin and exposed muscle. Triumphan briefly glanced back at him, before turning his attention forward again and clawing open a fellow’s stomach.

If Blackmask thought her heart felt like hell, it was only because she had no idea what was going on in the rest of her cardiovascular system. A heart, certainly, was not enough space for an Organ; but it was wide, at least. As the thick slime spread throughout her blood vessels with each thump, it threatened to burst through the overtaxed capillaries, spilling out and causing God only knows what horrible things. Thankfully, the substance still retained its sentience, even if it wasn’t quite in full effect yet, so it managed to retain enough control to avoid this.

A small group of gargoyles swooped down upon the rebels, slashing at them with both claws and sword; their leader charged a carpenter, who hadn’t even bothered to change out of his sawdust-covered apron, and flung him into the air with his horns. Not to be outdone, the carpenter promptly transformed his hand into a chisel, driving it into the creature’s stone skull as he fell. To the left of the pirate, Triumphan was grappling with a particularly burly one; Ripper, meanwhile, was busy frantically batting another away with her stunstick.

Each breath the pirate took was like torture, made her feel as if she was going to burst. This was not at all aided by the fact that her blood was now more or less entirely replaced with ooze, and what little remained of Miq had begun spilling into her lungs and stomach. She coughed, desperately trying to shake off the sensation of drowning on land as she slammed her boot into a guard’s nether regions; her eyes began tearing up at the burning sensation welling up in her stomach as she ducked under a crossbow bolt, which lodged in the leg of a dwarf. But she continued fighting, half-dazed, rambling about the proletari-whatever and redistribution and sanctity under her breath. Because if she didn’t stop fighting, she told herself, the rebels would lose; and the boundless, barely-directed fear and anger that thought brought on was enough to keep her in the past ten times over.
The workshop was fairly small, and exceptionally dark, lit only by the flames of the forge and the glow of the white-hot lump of metal gradually being transformed into a sword.The bearded man was lost in the familiar rhythm – slam the hammer down, slowly raise it back up, slam, raise, slam, raise, slam, raise. The repeated clangs and bangs of steel against silver spurred him on, the music of his chosen and beloved craft.

This melody was – rather rudely, the smith thought – interrupted by his door slamming open. As he turned his head to face the pale one-eyed man, he found himself mildly perplexed that the door that previously led to the front of his shop now led to some (apparently dead) fellow’s bedroom. The combination of these conditions led the man to give a withering glare to the interloper.

Lutherion, meanwhile, responded to the scowl with an equally-large grin. When this only caused Arkal to scowl even harder, the necromancer burst into laughter. “Someone seems to be in a foul mood, hm?” Strolling over nonchalantly, he pinched the blacksmith’s cheek with his Wightmaw Arm. “Now, then, I’m going to be needing someone to make weapons for my undead army. Won’t you be a dear and go peacefully?”

Arkal tore the arm from his face and pushed the necromancer away. “You’d best get out of my workshop while I’m trying to work.”

Lutherion’s arm began glowing the deep, darkish purple traditionally associated with necromancy or perhaps poison or something, his laughing escalating into a maniacal cackle. “Don’t worry! Once I’ve taken care of things, you can work on the go!” He raised his fist and swung it towards Arkal, who quickly flipped his anvil, sending the still gleaming metal into the necromancer’s eye socket.

The blacksmith spat on the ground and stared Lutherion in the eye. “Your arm seems to be broken, kiddo. Let me fix it for you.” Briefly glancing at the weapons scattered throughout the room, he shook his head and decided to simply grab his anvil. “I’ll use a direct approach. It’ll be better than NEW!” With this, he swung the silver block into the necromancer’s stomach, knocking him to the ground.

Lutherion gasped at the burning sensation brought on by the silver. Growling, he leapt to his feet and launched another punch suffused with necromantic energy, stopping it just short of the anvil, which Arkal had raised as an improvised shield. He repeated this process, circling the blacksmith, until he had reached the wall behind him; at which point he yanked down an iron mace, which he drove into the anvil with all his might, leaving a considerable dent in it.

The craftsman stared at the imperfection in disbelief before letting out a tremendous roar, frantically swinging his weapon left and right. “This anvil… has been my companion for years!” He knocked Lutherion’s mace into the sky; the necromancer responded by grabbing at a spear and lunging for the berserk blacksmith. It was a solid hit to the stomach, and he groaned in pain, but stayed on his feet, fighting.

“I’ll give you this, sir, you certainly are making things interesting!” Lutherion broke out into a giggling fit, at which point Arkal smashed him over the head. Falling to the ground, Lutherion cursed, crawling back as quickly as he could as the blacksmith brought the block of silver down once more; he succeeded, and the impact caused the floorboards to fracture. Quickly, Lutherion scrabbled to his feet, tossing the spear at Arkal before dashing out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

“No you don’t…” Arkal opened the door again, only to find it once more led to his familiar (and currently closed) storefront. Placing his anvil down, he passed through, looking around in bafflement.

What he perhaps should have expected (alas, dying makes hindsight moot) was that, as he turned back to his workshop, scratching his head, Lutherion would slowly and silently creep through the front door. He crept towards the blacksmith, grabbing an intricately-carved knife from a display case and driving it through the poor man’s neck until it came out his throat. Once again, he burst out laughing. “Looks like I win, though I did very much enjoy our little game!”

The necromancer yanked out the knife, whirled to the front of the man, and gleefully stabbed him nine times in the face before finally driving the blade into his heart and leaving it there. At this point, the blacksmith collapsed. Lutherion bent down on one knee, drew a short staff from his robes, and pressed his skeletal palm to the man’s forehead. “Oh, but you can’t quit on me yet… Arkal, is it?” He chuckled softly. “We’re going to have a good deal of fun yet…”

Quantos slumped against the wall of the alleyway, taking a long drag off his cigarette before continuing to speak. “There’s four of them. Well… possibly more from loopholes and such, but I doubt it.” He gestured vaguely with his wrist in between puffs. “Point is. I tell you where they are? You could have damn near anything you want.”

Countess grinned, shuffling closer to him. “I’m sure you’re telling the truth, Mister…”

Quantos glared, his green eye crackling with electricity. “Officer Xodarap to you, grifter.”

The amalgam gave out a nearly perfect fake laugh, gently placing a hand on his shoulder. “Officer, then. As I was saying, you seem trustworthy enough, but I rather require proof before I embark on any frivolous endeavors. Surely you understand?”

Silently, the time traveler nodded, and produced a photograph and a ring. The former showed the two of them shaking hands (albeit while Quantos still wore a scowl) outside the remodeled palace; the latter was a perfect match for one the Countess herself wore. “That good enough for you, Paige?”

The amalgam briefly looked on in surprise, but quickly went back to her mildly disconcerting smile. “Absolutely, Officer. What, precisely, do I need to do in order to get this information I desire?”

He inhaled from his cigarette one last time, before throwing the stub to the ground and stamping it out with his walking stick. “Go to the Red District. Be careful; things are going to be… bad out there, to say the least.” He closed his eyes for a moment before continuing. “I need you to scavenge the streets for bones. Mark them on this map of the city streets for me, and bring them back to this location in five minutes. Then I’ll give you what you want.” Noting the dubious look the Countess was giving him, Xodarap sighed and handed her, along with the map and a pen, a handful of coins. “I know it sounds absurd, but just do it. It’ll be beneficial for the both of us.”

Countess shrugged and smiled, pocketing what he’d given her. “Of course, Officer. I’ll be back as fast as I can.” At this, she began scuttling off to the Red District, scanning the map in order to plan about five different escape routes in advance.

Quantos tapped his walking stick to his right eye three times, and it began to emit a low humming noise. “I’m counting on you, grifter. Don’t let me down.” Briefly, he glanced at his right arm, and winced before vanishing into the night.
The rebels continued their march forward, laughing and singing songs which Ripper didn’t know the words to (though she mouthed along, even though nobody could really see it, to keep in the spirit of the whole thing). They were stopped at the front door of the castle by a single man.

He stood tall, in ruby-red armor; over his shoulder, he carried a sword longer than his arm, with just the slightest curve to it. He raised his free hand to point at the army in front of him, and in a commanding voice, he shouted: “Traitors! Fiends! Leave now, for if you continue, you shall be forced to combat a man who cannot die; and it is with every unstoppable breath that I shall defend the king and queen of this land!” The army mostly quieted, but for a few nervous chuckles in the background. “Very good. Now turn tail, and we shall forgive you of your insolence; if you dare keep this up, you will be slaughtered – if not by me, then by the Sorian Council.”

By now, everyone had gone silent; the only noise was the chill wind rustling the branches of nearby trees. And for a moment, it looked as if the rebel army would have turned away. And surely, if Triumphan had been slain, or if the watchmen had arrived to flank them, they would have. But as it happened, neither of these were the case, so instead, a voice shouted from the middle of the crowd: “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Again, there was a long pause, as nobody really knew what to say to that; it wasn’t especially compelling. But to Triumphan, just barely shaken by the bodies littering the field, it provided the last extra bit of resolve he needed. Slowly, a grin crawled across his face, and he raised his head high. “Friends… show this fool that no man, regardless of his strength, can hold to the might of the God!”

There was, at last, a great cheer; and the army charged into battle once more.
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

The king strode his way into the library, dismissed his guards. There was a meek protest. It was silenced quickly.

The fact that the king had escorts in the first place implied something was wrong. Though such a conclusion could also be reached by taking in his haggard face and stooped shoulders.

Something had shaken the castle a few moments prior. The castle itself was solid enough so that such a disturbance could barely even be considered an earthquake. There had been a few more like disturbances, but then they had halted. Perhaps this had something to do with what was worrying the king, as well as the reason why the king was here in the first place. Whenever something worried him, he couldn’t help but talk to the librarian. It didn’t make a lot of sense for the king to pour his heart out to his confidante in the middle of a crisis when he was likely needed to make decisions, but, well, that was Max. The librarian didn’t mind his unofficial role as an adviser/consoler/listener/pillow-to-scream-into, but he certainly preferred the congenial conversations over this.

Before the librarian could politely ask what the matter was, the king started. “This is all my fault.”

The librarian asked for clarification: what is all your fault, exactly?

“This…this rebellion. There’s a rebellion going on right outside and they’re going to burst in and kill me! The guests don’t even know what’s going on yet!”

Can’t imagine that they’ll remain ignorant for long.

“I…I did something wrong. I must’ve, that’s why this is happening.” The king paced around the library fitfully, his hand to his forehead. “I knew this would happen, I knew it! Was only a matter of time before someone figured out I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Why did I have to be born in a goddamn royal family?”

The librarian decided to stop this self-pity party in its tracks by slightly shifting the conversation to his plans, which he must have made before coming here.

“Sent Annaliese and the kids away, so I’m really the only target left,” he sighed. “Unless you count everybody having a good time in the ballroom. Christ, do I tell them? I didn’t want them to get all panicky, but what if we can’t keep ‘em out? They’ll get panicky anyways and then maybe slaughtered and then they’ll hate me for not telling them.”

That would probably be the least of their worries at that point. Are the rebels so well-armed that there’s really a possibility of them breaking in?

Yes! They’ve got explode-y things! And they’re organized! I, I think, they’re gonna get killed out there!”


Both! I dunno! Why can’t we just talk things out? I’m good at talking! Or, at least, better at that than planning an, an anti-rebellion…thing! Talking never got anybody killed!”

It could.

“All I’ve done is sit there and listen to people around me say ‘I suggest blah blah blah tactic, Your Highness’ or ‘We should probably place more guards blah blah blah, Your Highness’ and all I could do was just kind of nod. I didn’t understand a word of it! Well, I did, I mean, I knew what the words meant, but what is it going to mean out there? I don’t know! No matter what happens, people are going to be pissed at me and I want to fix this, but I can’t!

The librarian didn’t agree with this pessimistic outburst.

“So what do I do? If I beat them back, they’ll just add this to whatever their list of grievances is and pop up again at some later point. If I surrender, they’ll kill me. If I come out and say I’m willing to do some negotiations, which, by the by, nobody wants me to do, they’ll probably not believe me, or they’ll have demands that I wouldn’t even know how to satisfy, and then I disappoint them, or I guess piss them off even more since they’re probably already disappointed in me, and then they’ll kill me, or maybe they’ll ask for something I can give but then I piss off Baron So-And-So and the other side hires an assassin to kill me. Even if I don’t die now, I’ll die eventually, and then I’ll be known as the worst king forever more, I’ll literally be called that in future history books, and – “

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far...there are certainly worse kings than you.”

In the shadows of the bookcases, two red pupils glinted. They belonged to the king’s other regular conversationalist. The boy was homeless, his clothes ragged and his bare feet calloused, but he was remarkably perceptive. He was, unofficially, the king’s informant, being someone who apparently heard many things in the street. The rebellion hadn’t been one of them.

The king had long ago given up on figuring out how the boy kept sneaking in and out of the castle. It was just one of the boy’s many oddities. “Did you honestly hear nothing about anybody planning this?”

The boy shrugged helplessly. “You should probably invest in an informant who can go inside churches.”

The king finally sunk down into a chair. The whole ordeal was somehow physically exhausting. He wasn’t looking forward to going back to his actual advisers. “I angered the church? Shit.”

The librarian asked the boy if he knew more.

“It’s not like anybody is interested in having a nice chat about their motives out there,” he replied. “Look, those guys down there don’t have a lot of training and they don’t have more firepower than your guards. I don’t think they have some sort of secret weapon either, so, you know, you’ll win.”

“But that’s not what I want,” said the king. All three were silent until finally, the king sighed and left the library.


Eureka hated dying. She was sure that Syvex was probably the same. And so, the nearby explosions were good motivation for hurrying inside the shed-living-room-thing before things got messy. Granted, things could get messy inside a living room as well, but this didn’t seem to be any regular sort of living room. Perhaps it was explosion-proof.

Eureka shut the door behind her and held it there, as though it would blow open again. Syvex, for his part, looked slightly disoriented. “We’re not in the shed.”

“What? We walked through the shed door. So we’re in the shed.”

“The shed was in the middle of that forest place. I’m looking through the walls right now here, and we are nowhere near a forest.”

Eureka thought about this for a little while and then just accepted it. As long as the weird shit wasn’t happening to her, then things could be as weird as they wanted it to be.

The place was dark, which the two of them took to mean that nobody was home. Or that the inhabitants were sleeping. Or maybe they were actually awake, seeing as the lighting in this time period seemed to be kind of shit. Which she thought might be a problem if she wanted to continue reading the book, but she found that…apparently it wasn’t. Which was disconcerting, but admittedly useful.

Syvex wanted to stop the revolution. It was hard to not notice that. Eureka hated dying. She also hated standing in the middle of a meaningless fight. So there were two reasons for not getting involved. In fact, it was probably safer to have the two of them calm down and chill out in the future (or the present or whatever). Then she would definitely not die for whatever-the-hell.

“It doesn’t look like anybody’s here,” Syvex said, returning from some quick scouting. He picked at the suit that he was still wearing.

On one side was the monarchy. She hated authority. It was a system of authority that had hounded her back home over nothing. The other side was the church. She hated the church. There was no reason to not hate the church. No matter what religion, all of them knew how she could live her life better than how she was living it right now. And they loved to let her know that. If those two things just left her alone, then she was fine with them. Hell, she always loved the idea of becoming a hermit. No government. No churches. No people. The only problem was that she was too dependent on a civilized life. And she hated herself for that.

People were probably dying right now, but they were people she didn’t know, and probably people she hated, considering she hated people on principle. So she shouldn’t care that people were dying. The church was being stupid and the monarchy was being incompetent, so she shouldn’t care that they were fighting right now, especially if they were both too stupid to just act like adults and reason out a solution together. The things that the magic ghost box said maybe were probably true, sure. But it still had nothing to do with her or anything, right? Because everybody had good and bad sides. It’s just that nobody considers anybody else as being complex like that. It’s easier to make a simple snap judgment and move on. Annoying laugh? That guy is bad. Likes the things I like? That guy is good. Hates children? Bad. Not part of my religion? Bad. The king was just the same. Bad and good things. The church was the same too. Made both sides sympathetic. But it had nothing to do with her. This whole thing was still stupid and she had no sympathy for stupidity. Right? Right.

“Any ideas on what to do?” asked Syvex, and she was certain that he meant ‘what to do about the rebellion.’ He wanted to stop her from dying. He wanted to stop the rebellion. He wanted to stop people from ‘making mistakes,’ turning history into something nice and happy and wiping away pain, because pain is hardship and hardship is bad, not good, and if they have the power to make things better, why don’t they? Disregard the lives people made in the future to give their shitty ancestors a better past?

(Well, why did you grab a book about the past if you didn’t care about it so much?)

Her head hurt. She was not in the mood for heroics.

“Let’s just calm down and get out of here before everything explodes,” she said.

RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
Syvex considered calming down and getting out of there, but everything exploded.

The fact that "everything" was really more like "the front of a house" didn't mean much, given that it was the house that he and Eureka were currently in, and that explosions were really goddamn bright.

"Hey, Eureka?" Syvex nudged the textilomancer, noticing her doing that slow-breathing thing she'd also done while under assault by angry vegetation.

Eureka was doing her best to ignore the world around her, to ignore the explosions, to ignore the creaking and cracking from the ceiling above, to ignore Syvex's increasingly frantic nudging and yelling, to ignore the chunk of ceiling falling directly on top of her wait shit.

Eureka sprang from the ground in a panic, splintered chunk of wood merely slashing her leg instead of smashing her head. It really didn't hurt as much as it should have, Eureka noted as she watched her distressingly violet blood stain the ex-opulent carpet.

"Shit," she spat. "New plan, let's get the hell out of here."

"Right into the middle of a revolution? Maybe there's a back door..."

"Back door? You're the one with portal... magic... stuff! Get us out of here!"

"If you haven't noticed, the house is on fire! Fire isn't really good for darkness!" Syvex swatted another chunk of wood out of the air. "This way, now!"

Eureka followed the well-dressed serpent into the slightly-less-on-fire back part of the house, where he immediately set to work creating an escape route. Amidst general feelings of panic, Eureka found time to idly wonder why she wasn't hungry. She hadn't eaten in at least a day. She also found time to wonder how she found time to wonder in the first place, given that she was probably in extreme danger.

Eureka's musings and Syvex's portalings alike were interrupted by the unmistakable cacophony of a chimney crumbling under its own weight. Brick and mortar and broken glass sprayed across the room as the house's back wall was torn to shreds, the ceiling bowing downward with a creak. Cracks spread wider and wider across the ceiling by the second, the entire house groaning under the stress.

As the rallying cries of the revolutionaries echoed in the distance, Syvex and Eureka narrowly avoided being smashed into unregenerative paste by several tons of wood, brick, and mortar. A hasty portal jump left them sitting inside of a dissonantly serene fountain in the middle of the Blue District.

"That could've been bad," Syvex mumbled as he watched the house collapse into an unrecognizable pile of debris. "You alright, Eureka?"

"...Just fine," she retorted, rubbing the rapidly-healing gash in her leg. Rough. Purple. Just great. "Okay, let's get the hell out of here for real now, before something else happens."

Some shouts erupted from the distance, and a number of figures came running from the unseen mob. Syvex clambered out of the fountain, pointed several hands in their direction, and fired a burst of darkness in their general direction (only a warning, of course) - they responded by running faster, by shouting louder. He launched another, hitting one of the frenzied revolutionaries - a tall, armored man who seemed to be missing an arm - in the face. He fell like an especially heavy rock.

Glowing balls of darkness trailed through the evening air with all the accuracy of a shotgun in an action movie. Two more were felled by the furious serpent in this way - a park bench was splintered; a lamppost bent.

Also, two more of their attackers were knocked unconscious.

Syvex very suddenly ceased his onslaught when a black sphere rolled to the base of the fountain, fuse lit. Syvex had never seen an old-timey bomb before, but it was pretty obvious that it wouldn't exactly be spewing sunshine. As he dove to knock the bomb out of the way, it exploded, taking most of the fountain and two of his right arms with it. Eureka flopped to the ground, ragdoll-like, then vanished into time.

Syvex, in a frenzy, tossed himself at the barrel-thrower - a dilapidated suit of armor that didn't actually seem to have anyone inside of it. The suit shrugged off frantic blasts of vaguely-defined darkness, delivering a solid punch to the serpent's gut followed by several rounds from the gun mounted to its arm.

Several seconds later, the animated tin can found that its shadow was a lot less solid than it had remembered, and it summarily fell into a river of human excrement.

Syvex didn't want to stay and fight. He really wanted nothing more than to calm down and rejoin Eureka back in the future. He didn't even have to consider fleeing - he hopped through a portal on instinct.

Faced with a shadowy tear in space with no clear destination that could close at any second, most people would turn away and find somewhere else to revolute. The cephalopod-faced man whose sword was now buried in Syvex's chest was not most people.

"Alright, what the hell," Syvex mumbled, ripping the sword out of his chest. He lurched toward his attacker, intent on caving his skull in.

Thane responded by stabbing Eureka in the heart. Purple blood spurted from the fresh wound, and she fell to the ground, clutching her chest.

"No!" Syvex shouted, reaching out an arm, which immediately ripped itself from his body. His other arms followed suit. Unfazed, Syvex slithered toward Thane to bite his goddamn octopus-face off, only to be held back by his own arms.

"Wh- what are you..." Syvex began, before his tongue fell out of his mouth. Eureka grabbed the operating table and pulled herself onto her feet, only for Thane to stab her again. The doctors did nothing but stare as Thane stabbed her again and again, her shouts for help going unanswered. Syvex struggled. The arms couldn't hold him on their own. HIs own arms grew back in mere seconds, then fell off again. And again. Dozens of arms dragged him away as Thane continued to slice apart the defenseless Eureka.

Syvex, tongueless, tried to shout her name. Thane stopped at the pathetic groaning sound, staring impassively at the helpless serpent. Idly, he swept his sword through Eureka's neck, sending her head bouncing across the dirty, tiled floor and into Syvex's arms. Syvex stared, in shock. Then the head started screaming...

Eureka woke up in the shade of a tree, lying on much nicer-kept grass than she had landed on before blacking out. She sat up, head throbbing. All things considered, she felt much better than most people would after being launched through the air by an exploding fountain. A fountain that, in the future, had been rebuilt in honor of the revolution, clean water flowing serenely in a stark contrast to the chaos a century prior.

Eureka pushed herself to her feet, not especially startled by the fact that her right arm, badly burnt, was healing over in purple scales. Loathe as she was to admit it, she was already getting used to terrible things happening.

When Syvex appeared in front of her, apparently unconscious, it wasn't even remotely surprising. That is, until he suddenly convulsed, clutching at his head and murmuring indistinctly, then disappeared again. Eureka stared, wondering what the hell had just happened.

Eureka's head rolled across the floor. It screamed. Eureka's limp body grew another head. It fell off too. The heads screamed. They all screamed and rolled and bled. There was no end. There was no refuge. There was no battle.

There was only screaming.

The purple serpent flashed into the present again, hands clasped to his temples, murmuring growing louder, pained. Once again, he disappeared.

A dark forest. An operating table. Lights. Displeasure. Sadness. Gunfire. Yelling. A cage. A laboratory. A skyscraper. Trees. Falling. Shouting. Darkness.



Eureka grabbed a few strips of fabric from her pocket, watching the cobblestones for another appearance. When the convulsing Syvex appeared for a third time, Eureka fabric-slapped him across the face. Really goddamn hard.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Hehehehehehe...." A rotten face smiled ear-to-ear as its owner strolled through the empty streets, little but fire, rubble, and a bloody, animated corpse to keep him company.

"What have we here? A revolution? Perfect! Plenty of material for my armies, hmm? Hahaha!" Lutherion gazed into the distance with his one good eye. "Hmmmm... It looks like they're already gone! No more destruction here, then... But where would they go... Aha! The castle, of course!"

Lutherion giggled with glee. "Might as well get started here. After they kill each other out there, we're going to have so much fun! Isn't that right?"

The huge, bearded zombie kept quiet.

Not very discreetly, Lutherion hopped on top of the crumbled remains of a once-stately house, searching for anything that had once been alive. He laughed hideously as he found an arm sticking out from under a chunk of stone, and commanded Arkal to pull the corpse out into the open. The zombie obliged.

In the house across the street, Herbert Tannerson, terrified local cobbler, stared on as some sort of insane hobo and his giant friend dragged the body of respected judge Tabberyl Johnson from the rubble of his own home. Herbert sighed. Judge Johnson had long defended the king's rule, and for that his house had been blown up with him inside of it. There was no justice in it.

Herbert stopped caring about justice when he watched Tabberyl's skeleton rip itself out of his body and come to life. The hobo cackled maniacally as the skeleton and the giant set to work digging through the rubble, no doubt searching for the rest of the dead judge's family.

Herbert threw up.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"So be it, then," the armored man yelled over the roaring crowd, raising his sword for battle. "You shall all die upon this night!"

The crowd visibly shrunk back from Scarlet's declaration. Many of them had never been in a real fight - impoverished citizens who had been swept up in the fervor of revolution without full realization of the consequences. They could die here. They could all die, and for nothing, to no end, no better life for others.

"What are you waiting for?" Triumphian roared. "What is one man before the will of the God? Onward!"

For a second time, the battle-cries of the reptilian priest ignited the crowd. By their will, by their numbers, by their righteousness, they could stand against even the legendary Scarlet Knight, he who had slain a hundred men in battle without so much as a scratch, who had shrugged off assassination attempts as if a schoolboy had tied his shoelaces together. Who cared if they had to accomplish the impossible? Who cared if some of them were to die for their cause? They could not fail! A rallying cry went up as the army charged the palace, swords and spears at the ready.

Perceived righteousness proved a poor substitute for decent swordsmanship. With a single stroke of his sword, the knight struck down three men, their blood spilling upon the uncaring cobblestones. With a sweep of his armored foot, several more were sent flying back.

"Run while you still can, miscreants! These steps shall be your graves!" The knight demonstrated his point by gutting a dirty, wolfskin-wearing rebel. The rebel tossed an oversized claw in desperation before he collapsed, cleanly cutting through the knight's armor and leaving a massive, bloody wound in his midsection. He shrugged it off, the wound healing over in seconds.

The fervor once again began to die out. It was hopeless. He fought their best swordsmen to a draw, and could slaughter the less-capable effortlessly. A miracle would be needed if the revolution were to get past the gate, though many were already starting to doubt the God's support for their revolt.

Then, out of nowhere, a blinding light hit the knight in the face, causing him to stumble back. Several more followed, though he was able to shield himself with his monstrous sword. He was not able to shield himself against the force of an angry, rocket-propelled pirate. (Mind you, that's not really the kind of thing you learn to shield against).

The Scarlet Knight gave Ripper a hearty punch to the face, stumbling back to his feet. He raised his sword to deliver an easy coup de gras, only to have his hand blasted off by technology that wouldn't exist for another 500 years. As the sword clattered to the ground, Ripper delivered a furious and sudden beatdown with her stun-stick, swiftly rendering the knight unconscious. Immortality, unfortunately, failed to provide protection against electric batons from the future.

"Astounding!" Triumphian shouted. "Truly you have been chosen by the God! Now, let none stand in your way! Remember those we have lost, and press onward!" A thunderous roar resounded across the palace as the forces of revolution charged toward their regicidal goal.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Syvex awoke in a daze, like waking up from a horrible but half-remembered nightmare. All around him were vague, fuzzy shapes that couldn't seem to stop waving around in every direction at once. As it happened, Syvex was just as susceptible to head trauma as everyone else. Most concussions, however, don't tend to follow nightmarish mindfucks from octopus-headed swordsmen. Most.

The world slowly came into focus. Eureka was there, thankfully - although she was much scalier than he'd last seen her. He sat up. Well-kept streets, neatly-trimmed gardens, no explosions or yelling - definitely the future. That thought alone kept Syvex calm enough to not launch through time yet again. It's not like anything bad could happen at a goddamn opera.

"Hey, Eureka. Glad you're safe. What the hell just happened to me?" is what Syvex would have liked to say. What he actually said sounded more like "Eureka venar. Ne vax voren sarat. Rek sintrak'vo tarven ne'vi son?"

"...What?" Eureka replied.

"I asked you what the hell happened," Syvex continued to not actually say. He could tell something was wrong, but wasn't really sure what.

"...Syvex, are you having a stroke? A... can you even have a stroke?"

"What are you talking about, Eureka?" Syvex tried very hard to figure out what she was talking about, but failed.

"Okay... I heard my name in there. What the hell language are you speaking, Syvex?"

"I'm... I'm speaking English. Aren't I? Wait... No, no, definitely English," Syvex said in non-English.

"Alright, alright. Listen. Whatever happened with the convulsions and stuff, must have... damaged your speech centers? Is that how it works? Does your brain even work that way?" Admittedly, Eureka didn't know a lot about psychology, but that sounded familiar.

"I... huh? Am I... what do I sound like to you?"

Eureka looked uncertain. "Syvex, uh... Just... don't bother with talking. It's probably some kind of trauma. Let's just go to the opera house and calm down before one of us panics and ends up in the past again. Hopefully you'll get better." Giving Syvex an odd look, she started down the road to the opera house.

Syvex started to protest, then stopped. What was the use? Sure, there was a revolution and some people were going to die. But it already happened. The more they changed the past, the more the present would change as well. And who were they to erase the present in order to make an attempt at changing history? History that they'd been a part of. The implications made Syvex's head hurt.

He wanted to save those people. War wasn't right, and it didn't accomplish a thing except killing the innocent. Everywhere Syvex went there was death and destruction, and just once he wanted to stop that. But looking now upon the peaceful future, upon the lives people had made for themselves, the world the revolution had built... he wondered if it was right after all.

After a while of quiet strolling and slithering, the two reached the gates of the converted palace. Admittedly, their once-fancy clothes, to put it bluntly, looked like shit after the explosions and such - Eureka set to work mending them as much as she could before they entered.

The fountain was still there - just like it always had been, of course. Syvex rushed to it as soon as he entered, followed by Eureka. The names of the revolutionaries were mostly the same as before, etched into the ostentatious golden monument, with one exception - Eureka's name was gone. Syvex breathed a sigh of relief.

Eureka, meanwhile, noticed a name etched very prominently at the top of the plaque - "Ripper Blackmask". Eureka was suddenly very relieved. "Okay, great. So the pirate's going to die in the past, if things keep going like they are now. We just need to stay here and wait out the revolution, and it'll be him that dies instead of one of us. Unless that priest guy changes things, but I haven't seen him since... Since... The city? The house? Whatever."

"The heir yet lives! Revolution shall strike again! The tyranny shall soon - auuugh!"

A thump resounded through the lobby as confused patrons looked on. Two uniformed guards pushed their way through the crowd, dragging a disheveled, unconscious man out of the building. Murmurs immediately went up throughout the well-dressed mob, about heirs and revolutions and monarchies and other such topics.

These murmurs were quickly hushed by the sound of a spoon tapping on a wineglass. The members of the crowd looked up to the balcony at the head of the room. There stood a man known well to all of them - blonde hair, a red scarf, an impressive jawline - the president.

"Settle down, settle down! Don't worry, we have nothing to fear from rumors and simple madness. There is no 'living heir', and there isn't going to be a revolution. The country is perfectly stable now, so relax, and enjoy the show!" The confident smile on the president's face as he disappeared into the theater dispelled the worry and doubt in most of the opera-goers, and the calm atmosphere returned to the room.

Neither Syvex nor Eureka remembered the Prestidigitator's passing mention of such rumors - if they had, they might have thought to stay away from the opera house and hide somewhere else for the night. As it stood, though, all they saw was a nutcase screaming about nonsense. They both had doubts, but they didn't want to listen to them. And, of course, talking it out was completely out of the question. Instead, they merely followed the rest of the crowd into the theater, and (in Syvex's case very awkwardly) took a couple of seats in the back. The opera that night seemed interesting - a retelling of the glorious revolution a century prior.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In several back rooms of the Ambitus Opera House, a group of men sat in silence, knives concealed in their sleeves. Their objective was simple. At the stroke of midnight, they would slit the throats of every government official in the building. At the same time, other conspirators would detonate explosives across the city, bringing down much of the government in one swift motion. Revolt and unrest would spread, instigated by countless others, and what remained of the nation's leaders would be overthrown. They had only to wait for the stroke of midnight, the climax of the play, when the army of revolutionaries erupted into the throne room of the "corrupt" king and slew him. It was merely a matter of time...

Meanwhile, in one obscure corner of the opera house sat a frantic woman, suddenly bereft of the one thing that had driven her to go to such great lengths for her family. She wasn't alone - before her stood a gaunt, pale man, mouth horrifyingly stitched shut, looking just as confused as she was. He was ignoring her, searching around the room for something. She began quietly tearing through boxes, searching for the spider pincushion, the legacy of her grandmother, of the survivors of the royal family.

Nothing. She grew more frantic. Even with the pincushion, she'd barely had the nerve to come here in the first place - without it, she was sent into a veritable panic. What if she was wrong to come here? What if the monarchy was destroyed for a reason? This was murder - what if the others failed? Turned back? She'd go to jail. They might execute her for it.

In her increasing panic, the heiress failed to noticed that the hooded man was now silently standing in front of her. She fell back in surprise.

"...Who are you?" she eventually worked up the nerve to ask.

Muriegro, of course, said nothing. He, too, had been separated from his pincushion, his master, at the exact same moment as the girl. But unlike her, his mind was significantly more clouded by La Aguja's influence, his emotions dulled to the point where panic was impossible. Had it not been for that fact, he would already have been in the past, reunited with his god.

But as it was, Muriegro, for the first time in years, had begun thinking for himself. The girl in front of him had lost something, too. He gestured at the boxes, tilting his head slowly.

"I, uh..." she timidly began. "Have you seen a pincushion anywhere? Looks like a spider, about this big?"

As the heiress made a circular motion with her finger, something distantly resembling surprise registered in Muriegro's head.
RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
i guess i might as well officially reserve for this, finally. this should be the second-to-last post of the round, so if you've changed your plans at all since i last asked you about them speak now or etc
RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]

Eureka had never really been one for The Arts; there was too much of people saying things and meaning other things for her taste, too much misdirection and metaphor and making it up as you go along. Too many of the kind of people who always seem like they're lying no matter what they say. Still, there were worse things in the world, and it's not like they were really here for the opera anyway. It was just a place to weather the round in safety until the bad things this place was full of happened to someone else. Besides, how bad could The Arts make something as straightforward as a revolt and a big battle?

As it turned out, pretty bad. For starters, she had no idea who any of the people this thing was about were. That would have made it hard enough to follow on it's own, but it was an opera, not a play; almost everything was sung and metaphorical and repetitive. It managed at the same time to be incomprehensible and dull, but from the look of the people around her everyone else was eating it up. Eureka briefly considered comparing the presumably pro-rebellion retelling with the boxes' book as a way to pass the time, but it was too dark to read. Idly rubbing the scales on her shoulder, she decided it was unfair that she was slowly turning into some kind of crazy shadow monster but didn't even get cool night vision powers for her trouble.

As the opera wore on, Eureka found herself sinking further and further into her seat. At least it was comfortable. And safe. It was just boooring. Boriiing. Boring was kind of a weird word, really. Boring boring boing boing boing. It was as she had begun giving herself a back massage by sending the cushion on the back of her seat rolling up and down in waves that things changed, if not for the better at least for the more interesting.

Up until that point, the opera had mostly been kings and magistrates handing down selfish or cruel laws or verdicts, interspersed with handsome and virtuous heroes gradually coming to the conclusion that something had to be done. There was one character, a mysterious masked figure that came and went in instants and goaded the other characters into action, that Eureka would swear was supposed to be that pirate guy from the battle. That was… weird, but it made some sort of sense. If they had been changing things, people in the futurepresent would remember them. Would there be a scene where she and Syvex were captured at the party? She didn't know how she'd react to that. Either way, the story progressed in front of her, and it eventually reached the assault on the palace.

Even silly, prancy stage fighting was better than people she didn't care about eulogizing or soliloquizing or whatever. The definitely-the-pirate (she-was-pretty-sure) was showing up a lot more now, leading the charge along with some kind of giant lizard priest. It looked like a tyrannosaur in a miter, really. Not the sort of thing she expected to be a Glorious Revolutionary Hero, but this place was pretty weird. There was a big dramatic conflict with some immortal guy on a bridge, but after that there didn't seem to be much resistance. Somehow, the opera was even managing to make a violent, bloody battle boring. The rebels just walked all over the unprepared royal forces and approached the castle itself. Eureka stretched and screwed up her face in a huge yawn; when her eyes opened again, it was as though she was watching an entirely different production.

Rebels and royalists alike lay on the stage in very dramatic, hardly visibly breathing at all death. Wasn't-his-name-Ripper? was rallying the survivors with some sort of speech about heroism and tyranny, but Eureka wasn't paying attention anymore; she was shaking one of Syvex's shoulders.


"Did everything just change just now? Just nod or shake your head."

Syvex nodded, his posture indicating he'd been about to try to ask the same. A quick glance around the other operagoers confirmed that they were the only ones who seemed to have noticed anything. More stupid time nonsense, she supposed. At some point in the process of taking their seats she'd been handed a program that explained the story (what kind of Art is it if you need a supplemental pamphlet to have any idea what's going on?); it was printed on some kind of fancy, faintly-glowing paper that made it readable in the dark without being distracting. Knowing what she'd find before she looked, Eureka nevertheless confirmed with a quick scan that the summary had changed pretty dramatically as well. Everything ended the same way, though.

She watched the actor pretending to be one of her opponents rallying troops and fighting guards for a while. These people seemed to consider him some sort of hero, and he was definitely firmly on the rebels' side. Why had everything gone from a rout to a hard-fought victory? It had to be that priest guy's doing, although what he was doing and why was a mystery. He'd never seemed to do much of anything at all. Maybe he just thought the rebellion was stupid too? Who cared. He or the pirate was going to die. Unless things changed again, probably.

One thing was certain: definitely-probably-Ripper took the whole history changing thing seriously. The whole opera was practically about him now. He was some sort of folk hero. She really wondered how much of this was accurate. Probably close enough for her purposes.



First strolled the opulent halls with the air of a man with nowhere to be, no goal at hand, and nothing on his mind. None of these things were remotely accurate, but it was an air he generally tried to cultivate. Likable and agreeable. Canny and ingenuous. It was how he'd managed through the eternities not to end up entangled in the bitter rivalries and mutual loathing that characterized the other Gentlemen, and how he'd maintained his position on that damnable pocketwatch. Power could get you what you wanted, but it was pleasantness that would keep it.

The goal he didn't have approached, and he was very surprised to find exactly who he'd been expecting was there too, surrounded by quietly-groaning tomes bound in leather and flesh and things that First even now preferred not to think about. Of course, the room they had coincidentally encountered each other in happened to be the bar, so his comrade of circumstance also had a frankly-unladylike amount of brandy in a gilded snifter at her elbow.

"Feeling a bit nostalgic? It's almost quaint to see the old grimoires again. Like an old friend from childhood you're a bit embarrassed to have known showing up at a party, really. Doing a little light, aha, dark reading for old times' sake?"

"The thing we forget, and more importantly the thing that he's forgotten, is that there are things the old magic can do that even we can't on our own. We wouldn't be able to recreate the results of the ritual without the ritual."

Victoria took a gulp of her drink and snapped the book in her hand shut. It yelped, albeit muffled, and she snatched another one. First was careful not to show it, but he was surprised to see her like this; behind the impassive magpie's beak was an obvious scowl, behind her every jerked movement was simmering resentment, behind her carefully-level tone was a tension that threatened to snap. Seventh was certainly volatile and prone to rage when provoked, but this kind of sustained, calm fury was uncharacteristic. Unsettling.

"You're right, of course, but what does it matter? We've moved past the need for those things we can't provide for ourselves now, surely."

"If we had, then we'd have moved past the need for the watch. We'd have moved past the need to cloister ourselves in this plush little side-dimension and make bets to distract ourselves. Sixth–" and here her voice cracked, though whether it was with icy rage or burning despair, First couldn't tell "–would still be… with us."

He didn't respond, preferring to sedately pour himself a more reserved measure of the same liquor Victoria had selected and take a seat a few stools down from her literary tomb. He watched himself in the mirror for a time, considering the elegant swirl of his drink as he sipped it, and considering her furious scribbling in margins and on a notepad almost as an afterthought. Eventually he spoke, but it was directed at no one and had the air of merely musing aloud.

"I seem to remember we spent centuries of research when it became clear our resources weren't as unlimited as we thought. Centuries of ultimately-unfruitful study and experimentation, if memory serves. Traditional immortality just isn't compatible with what we've become. Necromancy is for the living." He paused. "Or the dead, I suppose. The distinction is arbitrary, which is why it works at all. Not for us, at any rate."

"My memory serves just as well as yours. You're not here to patronize me, you're here to help. And you'll be helping yourself just as much by the end."

Another silence, further sipping, further scratching of pen on paper. "As always, of course. Foolish of me to assume you'd pursue dead ends any farther than we already have."

There was no response, and First wasn't one to push; it was usually better to let things unfold without interference before making a move. Unless making one was more interesting, which certainly chagrined his companions who had wagered, or played, more poorly. Eventually, though, he felt compelled to nudge things along; they didn't have forever, after all.

"I could probably help more, though, if I knew what I was assisting with."

For the first time since he'd entered, Victoria locked eyes with him. He shuddered internally, his quietly-iron-hard willpower the only thing preventing the shudder becoming external. "I'll tell you when the last details come together, but know that you're already too far in with me to back out."


The rebel army poured through the sundered gates over the limp body of the palace's staunchest protector, yelling and singing and crying as they went. Their cause was just, and their will was strong, and with the God on their side there was no way they could fail; their thinning numbers and the attendant corpses that fell behind them wasn't a dire warning of their impending demise, but a grim reminder of why they couldn't afford to lose. Every man and woman and thing among them was determined to see the king hanged, and to see five palace lackeys cut down for each of their comrades that lay bleeding and motionless on the bridge.

The phalanxes of guards and mercenaries (and the more gung-ho sort of party guest, as there always were in these situations) that met them as they entered the courtyard would certainly give them the opportunity to meet those numbers, if they were able to overcome the superior numbers, equipment, and organization. The minimal warning the royalists had had before the attack meant there was much less to muster and less time to do it in than there otherwise would have been, but it was still a military that the rebels faced. They weren't cowed, as filled with righteousness and the sort of self-correcting bravado instilled in men who were too far committed to back down as they were, but their attention was certainly fully drawn to the army they were about to face.

That was probably why the darkened carriage that suddenly turned off its path towards the gates and quickly disappeared into the thickening gloom managed to escape everyone's notice.

The conundrum of Not-Riko Riko was hurriedly filed away for consideration at a less dangerous time, and Laguja projected its awareness out of and above the carriage. By all rights, what it witnessed should have been a slaughter, or at the very least nothing approaching a fair fight. But against all odds and for no reason or pattern the pincushion could readily discern, the rebels were holding their own, and then some. It was slow progress, but were making headway and losing fighters more slowly than their opponents. It didn't seem right. It certainly didn't seem promising. Laguja was about to wonder where the magical support it had surely brokered by now hadn't materialized when the sky turned red.

The hubbub of battle dampened a bit as both sides suspected the other of doing something game-changing, and rebels and royalists both backed into more defensive positions. It wasn't long before the reason for the change became apparent, though: within moments, streaks of heat and light and half-molten stone were hurtling towards the rebels. They broke rank and scattered, despite the apparent futility of trying to outrun a meteorite. Surprisingly, few of the falling rocks met their mark; not only did many of the targets dodge them, but quite a few of the meteorites simply disintegrated in midair. Laguja was also quite certain that some of them winked out of existence only to reform behind a terrified rebel, and was pretty sure some suddenly turned at right angles in midair to avoid killing anyone. Either some wizard's heart wasn't really behind the cause, or something else was interfering.

By the time the earth had reached up to swallow many of the insurgents, only to regurgitate them or stop halfway through, a solid suspicion was forming in the godling's fractured mind. Surely only one being had the power to so effectively nullify the magic of a whole cabal of the country's most powerful magi, and only one being had such motivation to prevent the future from changing. A figure emerged from the highest of the palace's towers and began hurling spikes of ice and bolts of electricity at the ragtag army far below, but Laguja came to accept her magic's lack of accuracy and efficacy very quickly. It couldn't affect the battle directly, but no amount of countermeddling would be allowed to derail its plans.

Laguja would not give the Prestidigitator the satisfaction of another victory.


Eureka glanced down at the program again. She'd completely lost track of the story the opera was trying to tell; apparently as the pirate and the priest fought for control over history, everyone else around her was changing with it, and she (and Syvex too, she supposed, even if he couldn't really tell her about it) was the only one who remembered the opera as it had been. Sometimes scenes would radically change as she watched, and sometimes they would simply become entirely different scenes with no transition at all. It'd always been that way, except for her. It made it impossible to understand anything. Not that she'd been able to understand too much through the Arts-iness of it all. For the fourth (fifth?) time in a few minutes, the program clued her in to what she'd missed.

People were dying very dramatically up on stage, consumed by special effects she had to assume were actual magic. That seemed to line up with the current summary, and from what she could tell it was mostly the "righteous" rebels hamming it up into their graves. But if the rebels won (and presumably they still had to have won, since the play was changing but the palace wasn't, and a quick glance up at the balcony confirmed the smirking president was alive and not a monarch), then why were they losing? She scanned down a bit. Blah blah tragic deaths, blah blah heroic sacrifices, blah blah blah ah, they ended up losing the battle (which they hadn't before, right?), but the masked hero rallied the survivors and blah blah etcetera. And thennn… Okay, there, the queen was found escaping and was caught and executed with one of her daughters. That was… sad. And it was weird that they'd glorify or even include it. Even if the royalty was corrupt (which Eureka wasn't convinced of), the princess was just a little girl. How was that fair?

That couldn't be all, though. There was still the king, and if only "one of" the princesses was with the queen, then there had to be more. So… Okay, yeah, the rebels created a distraction with what they had left and a few of the more combat-trained ones (including the pirate, she noted), to infiltrate the palace. They managed to slip in and assassinate the king and the rest of the heirs (except one maybe? But if the opera was propaganda it wouldn't include that, she supposed), and that was pretty much that. The state was destabilized with no leader and no claim to legitimacy without an heir, and the pro-rebel portion of the church essentially purged the now-unpopular royalist priests and wrested control of the state from all the other factions. Or something, it didn't really matter what happened afterwards as far as she was concerned.

The whole thing just made her even more uncertain about trying to change things. Not only was it maybe not fair to the people around her now (how many of them would even exist if everything was different? Did it count as killing them all if she made them unborn?), but it really seemed like history refused to change. By all accounts, the rebels really should have lost. There was an army and some wizards and all kinds of things between them and democracy, but they just kept winning even when they lost. Maybe it was impossible.

Actually, it probably was. After all, what had the Prestidigitator said about the round? Something about how this night was linked to that one because of the events or something? If there was no successful rebellion, there wouldn't be a stupid time-thing, would there? Or maybe it was a coincidence. She really wished she'd paid more attention to the description, but as she was constantly reminded by the way her new shoulder scales kept catching on her clothes, she'd had more important things on her mind.

Ugh. Who cared about all of it? Everyone was stupid on every side, probably. Why couldn't anyone just talk things over? And if the constantly-changing history and tide of battle was being caused by the spider priest dude who hadn't ever seemed to do anything important before (which was weird the more she thought about it, surely he had to be up to something at some point. If this whole thing was some sick game for the entertainment of "higher" beings, why would they pick someone who just wandered around and stayed back?), then why was he so intent on fighting the rebellion? He didn't seem like the sort to just do it on principle or anything. What was the point?

She had nothing but questions and no answers. None were forthcoming from Syvex, obviously, and even fewer from the circuitously-singing actors on the stage. Stupid opera. So stupid.


Time was a tricky thing to measure in the bar, or in the entire realm that housed it; it was trickier still to compare it to the cyclical or tubular mess that was the Ambitus phenomenon. In the absence of a special chronometer like the one omnipresent in the gentlemen's minds, it would be impossible to say how much time First and Seventh had spent not-quite-co-conspiring without relying on visual cues like, say, the buildup of bottles or at least the draining of glasses. Of course, pedestrian physical qualities like volume and quantity held little sway in the realms of the grandmasters, so it could have moments or weeks before Victoria spoke again.

"Do you want to die, First?"

He chuckled. "Well, no. Of all the people in the multiverse, you've picked someone least likely to say yes."

"Then why have you let someone decide not just that you will, but when you will?"

A mortal might have begun sweating. "I suppose we didn't have much of a choice. Certainly not for lack of trying. Did better than most, too."

"I'll live far longer than you will, though. You know that."

"Well, cosmically–"

"That's a justification."

"Fine, yes, it is. But there's nothing I can do about it. All the research we did, everything we tried, it was futile."

"Because we were attacking it from the wrong direction. Thinking too rigidly."

"And you've discovered some sort of lateral sorcery that's going to solve it?"

"Still too rigidly."

First sighed. This wasn't really a conversation anyway; he waited for her to finish.

"There may be a way we can sustain ourselves indefinitely. There may not. But there's certainly a way to buy ourselves more breathing room, and maybe destabilize the cosmic pattern that's bound us to our fate. More importantly, though, we'll be fixing inequities we've suffered for far too long."

It had been a long time since First had allowed himself to feel the prickle of jealousy of his companions who had received more of the Prestidigitator's favor. It had been a long time since it had been safe to, linked as they all were. But now it crept up again, Victoria's blunt reminder and artless prodding stirring things best left buried.

"So we're to have justice in our dying days? You'd give up your own years to the likes of, what did you call them, "sniveling Third" and "spineless Fifth"?"

"I would. I know you felt it when Sixth passed. Part of us went with him. Do you want to watch yourself drain slowly into the abyss, dying by inches over the years? Do you wonder how much you would lose with each successive death, or what you'd become as the others pull you piecemeal into the grave?"

Silence again. He did remember the sensation, even though he hadn't known what it was at the time.

"But our lives aren't the only things at stake. I've tired of the subordinance, the slavery to whimsy and pomp. We let our "grandmaster" take control because of his perversion of the ritual, because we thought we had to. We couldn't wrest it from him if we tried, in our minds."

"And in reality, I suspect. Even the seven of us together have nothing like his power. He made sure the only one that could redistribute it was him. You must know all of us privately looked into ways of… evening the field."

"We looked in the wrong places. We weren't willing to sacrifice enough. We were content with what seemed at the time like close enough to infinity. But now we're reaching the end, and who knows what awaits something like us?"

"Mmm. What have you found, then? Something that will reset the balance of power and invigorate us equally?"

"No, nothing that easy. We still have to do the work, still have to fight for what is ours." She slid her notebook and a handful of tattered folios towards him. "But I've created something that, though it won't win the battle for us, will give us the chance to win."

With a quiet sigh, First began to read. It was slow going at first, reacquainting himself with the trappings of arcana, but it wasn't long before he was taking it in at speed. It was funny how you never really forgot, and how just a little bit of familiarity will bring it all rushing to the fore of your mind again. He almost smiled, recapturing a tiny fragment of the feeling of those lazy evenings under the oil lamps, sedately discussing Black Theory over coffee and biscuits.

As the spell's components unwove themselves under his gaze, though, he was slammed back into the present, warmth and security and innocence forgotten.

"You call here for a significant measure of his flesh and soul, Seventh. Even if I were to entertain this fancy of yours, it's a solution that requires that the problem be solved before it can be applied. We'd need even more powerful sorcery than this to get what we need to cast your spell."

"And that, First, is where you're wrong, and what we've forgotten for far too long."

He looked up, but she was already standing, already had her fingernails digging into the air until it tore.

"Surely you don't mean–"

"I do. As far as reality is concerned, we're all the same person."

Space was straining under her grip, and the tear was widening. It was almost her own height as First tried to speak again.

"I seriously doubt–"

"I do not. Even the numerology is right; we've only got one name between us. There's nothing to distinguish any of us from the others!"

She was shaping the hole now, gross tearing giving way to fine manipulation. The nothing at her fingertips was becoming a man.

"This is hardly justice!"

"Blood for blood. The only justice there is. One more sacrifice, and the rest of us can survive in equality."

He stood up as quickly as he could, striding towards her with urgency and an outstretched hand, but it was too late. It was as though he was moving through treacle. Before he'd taken two steps, the hole had resolved itself into Second.

The second gentleman was understandably shocked to find himself in the bar, and clearly disoriented and confused. It only took moments for bafflement to solidify into livid rage as he recognized Seventh; he snarled, pointed teeth glimmering dangerously in the soft light.

"You… bitch! This is the last Goddamned straw! I've had it up to here with you acting like you can do whatever the hell you want just because you're fucking the boss."

"Seventh, don't–"

Second's voice quickly drowned out First's; he moved to shove her aside, not noticing the obsidian implement that had formed or appeared in her hand.

"Just you wait. Just you wait! When I'm through with him, when I'm through with you, you'll show me the Goddamned respect I deserve. I swear, I ought to break your arms right now just on principle."

"Victoria, please–"

He shouldered her aside, and as she staggered she spun, driving the lightless knife into the nape of his neck. She turned her stumble into a wicked downward thrust, tearing through flesh and bone with efficiency and strength no normal implement should be able to achieve.



"Readings are consistent, and within normal baseline levels. I can detect no countermagic, nor flux interference."

[hollycolor]"It can't be nothing. I'd say someone had come down with mana dropsy, but it's all of us."[/color]

"I am well aware. Nevertheless, the readings are consistent."

"There has to be something wrong with your equipment then!"

"I would postulate that given none of our other diviners have successfully identified the problem, it is not a failure of my equipment, but a case of not knowing what to look for."

The president drummed her fingers on the table. She didn't like it, but she was forced to agree; something was preventing the entire College from bringing its full power to bear, but as far as any of them could tell, nothing was preventing anything. Everything just happened to not be working. It meant something none of them had ever encountered before was at work, which was unsettling enough given the collective centuries of experience her council had, but terrifying given that whatever it was was in the hands of a group of malcontents trying to topple the government. For all she knew, organized magic would be next.

"There's nothing out of the ordinary? Nothing at all? I'd rather hear something you're not sure of than miss a solution because you've dismissed it."

"I have noticed… not a pattern, nor an anomaly, but… Something curious."

The president had never seen her chief techmaturge look so uncertain. "Display it for us, then."

"I'm not certain what to display. It's less an actual phenomenon and more an underlying trend towards the possible but statistically unlikely."

"Your meaning?"

"Were I to analogize things for convenience, I would liken this to the flipping of ten thousand coins, some sequentially, some simultaneously."

The techmaturge fiddled with the device on her wrist for a few moments, filling the air with columns and columns of figures and graphs that most present didn't even know where to begin deciphering.

"Probabilistically, with a figure of that magnitude, it would be likely that the numbers of heads and tails would be close to one another. Some shift in favoring one or the other would be unlikely, but unsurprising."

"And you're saying we're seeing eight thousand heads?"

"It is closer to all ten thousand landing on their edges and staying there."

There was silence as the bizarre magnitude of the statement sunk in.

"These are all very subtle, some subatomic, trends, and I would hesitate even to hypothesize that most were related under other circumstances. I doubt I would even notice were I not actively looking. I do not know the cause, nor truly the full extent of the effects. My own methods and equipment cannot discern more."

There was a question hanging on the end of that statement, and the President's hand reflexively snuck to her eyepatch. "But you think there is more to learn with more power or finesse?"

"Had I access to equipment more advanced or suitable than my own, I would begin my examining the n-folding of the nested material dimensions. Depending on the results, I would likely have an answer, or know where to look next."

"Alright. I'm going to need concentration, then." The president waved her remaining councilors off. "See to the defense of the castle. Without our full abilities, your priority isn't the destruction of the rebel force, but the protection of the royal family and the guests, in that order. Needless to say, keep yourselves safe. I may have to recall you to discuss our next move, so stay alert."

As her wizards left, the president turned to her most stoic advisor. "I can see whatever you need me to see, but I don't know what to look for."

"I believe that I have made sufficient progress to be able to interface with you and your artifact and guide the search. If you are comfortable making the attempt."

She wasn't. "I am."

"Good. I will prepare."

The president slid her patch off hesitantly, revealing the black-and purple sphere embedded where her eye should have been.

"Contact will not be necessary."

She would have said "Oh." if she'd had the chance, but before she could she felt the spell take hold and heard her techmaturge's voice in her mind.

"You will forgive me if it takes some small amount of time to acquaint myself with the artifact's function and use."

The president had little time for pleasantries in general, and even less so in the privacy of her own brain. This was not helped by the dizzying sea of images that swam in front of her unbidden as her unseen rider experimented with controls. It was unsurprising a gracious "Of course." was not forthcoming.

Nevertheless, it was not long before things stabilized and the search for whatever was dampening the College's magic was on. It was very rare that the president viewed things as minuscule or abstract or theoretical as whatever n-folding was or meant, so it was difficult to maintain focus on whatever she was looking for. Fortunately, it didn't take long for the techmaturge to settle on something; she just wished she could tell what it was, or even describe it.

"I believe I have discovered the root of our problem."

"Great." Apparently the root of their problem was some sort of morass of colors that didn't exist moving through each other without any kind of rhyme or reason or even the vaguest relation to shape and form. "What is it?"

"I do not like to speculate without evidence."

"Well, that's all we have time for right now. What is it?"

"What it is is fairly straightforward: it is an extrarecursive signature. It is essentially a self-contained packet of universal "information" that forces matter and energy around it to reshape its own "contents" to match. It is why it is that is more troubling: these typically are only found during the formation of planar entities or the crossing of dimensional boundaries. Further, they almost universally self-annihilate in microseconds. Otherwise, everything would eventually become everything else. This one's longevity is exceptional enough, but its extreme subtlety and apparent self-alteration are not simply unusual but all-but-theoretically impossible. Moreover, there is a temporal element to this one that I have neither encountered before nor even heard mentioned as a possibility."

"I know you don't have an answer, so I'm not going to ask you for one. Do you at least have a theory?"

"I believe… It may not be inaccurate to say that the universe itself is actively suppressing our ability to manipulate it through magical means. Although this may erroneously ascribe motive to–"

"What, reality itself doesn't want us involved in this battle?"

"That may be an oversimplification and an overanthropomorphization of the phenomenon."

"But you're certain that this is a natural occurrence, not the result of interference by another group of mages?"

"If it is, their power is so great and their finesse so astonishing that I have difficulty believing we would have had no inkling of their existence until now."

"I don't… I don't like the idea of trying to interfere with what may be existence's way of saying "thus far and no further". But I also don't like the idea of simply giving up and allowing people to die because I was afraid."

The two considered the situation for a long but timeless moment.

"I have always been of the opinion that the ultimate goal of magic is the understanding of all reality's laws, and through that understanding creating new ones rather than the brief exceptions we normally create through spellcraft."

"That's a very bold belief. Almost apotheotic."

"Perhaps. How would you like to proceed?"

Well, the president thought, a leader is sooner forgotten for inaction and mediocrity than vilified through decisiveness and failure.

"Destroy it or dispel it or undo it, or whatever one does to whatever this is. I'm a wizard. I've never let reality tell me what's real, and I see no reason to let it now."

She couldn't see it, but she heard the techmaturge's device being adjusted beside her. There was a brief sensation of being inside-out coupled with the smells of twelve and itchy; she wasn't sure what happened next, but when she could see again she was on her back and her advisor was unconscious.

Outside, there was the sound of a hundred spells blazing to life, and soon the screams of those they'd been turned on. A rallying cry of the royal motto rose as the emboldened palace guard pressed their advantage; the president pulled herself up and towards a window.

"Well, we did it, whatever we did."


It was getting weird at the opera. Well, weirder than it already was, which was pretty weird considering it kept changing and she was stuck in a time loop and a battle to the death and turning into a shadow snake monster thingy. All in all, extra weirdness was pretty impressive. Maybe it wasn't getting weirder, just more incomprehensible.

She was barely bothering to look at the stage anymore, and had stopped trying to follow all the arias and ballads and blahs and blahs and blahs a long time ago. She was fixated on the program, watching it flick rapidly between versions and stories and plots before her eyes, often too quickly to even allow her to read a full sentence. That probably didn't matter, though, because the sentences she was reading barely made any logical sense. It's like someone was just stringing events together without any concern for which ones were causing which other ones. It was all getting… weird.

Even if he couldn't really discuss it with her, Eureka felt like it might help to tell Syvex what was going on. Misery loves company, so maybe confusion liked a visitor too.

"Hey, Syvex."

For the first time, she noticed how much his head was whipping around, and how tightly he was gripping the arms of his chair.

"Hey, Syvex!"

"Shush!" The voice came from somewhere behind her and to her right, and she was gripping by twin urges to hiss back "You shush!" and to sink into her seat and be forgotten. She settled for leaning closer to him and carefully shaking one of his shoulders.

Syvex, for his part, was only vaguely aware of Eureka and her requests for his attention. The lowered house lights in the auditorium meant that he could see just about everything happening in it, but the brightly lit halls and kitchens and backrooms around it effectively hemmed his vision in. What had caught his attention had been a number of figures skirting the very periphery of his awareness; he wouldn't have noticed them at all if there hadn't been so many of them and if they hadn't been so stubbornly sticking to the areas he could only just see them as blurry silhouettes. The more he concentrated, the more worried he got; what if they somehow knew about him, knew about how he worked, and were specifically avoiding letting him catch them?

As if on cue, they moved inwards as a group. If they were coming for him, they were doing it in a ludicrously circuitous way, which was a bit comforting. Rather, they all seemed to be making their ways as stealthily as they could to the plushest areas of the theater; the concentration was greatest near the boxes and balconies, and there were quite a few apparently specifically targeting the one with the president in it. That was… probably not relevant to him?

As they slunk deeper into his circle of shadows, though, it became very clear, sharply clear, that they were all carrying weapons. He put two and two together and decided that he and Eureka probably weren't on the hit-list for tonight, but that he also really didn't want them to be around for an assassination. He almost rose from his seat, but stopped when he realized he wouldn't be able to explain himself. Why couldn't she understand him anymore?

The she in question had returned her attention, for lack of anything better to turn it to, to the opera and the program. She'd noticed that there was one section that seemed to stay approximately consistent: How-could-it-not-be-Ripper, fleeing from the tyrannical mages, encounters and kills the queen. If nothing else, it should be exciting, finally. The special effects were impressive too, even if they kept altering themselves as the details of the scene changed.

Ignoring Syvex's fidgeting, she watched as the pirate fought through guards and dodged lightning bolts (or were they meteors or were they bolts of necrowhatsit blackness?) to approach a carriage at the far end of the stage. Eventually, its door burst open dramatically, and Eureka immediately lost track of the scene and her train of thought; she was too fixated on what the emerging figure had gripped in its left hand. She took some satisfaction in this evidence that her theories had probably been proven correct, although she did wonder a bit about where the priest guy actually was. She didn't think she'd ever seen him without his pincushion, or it without him. Or maybe she had; she didn't see much of either. Nevertheless, it was worth sharing, she felt.

"Psst!" She poked Syvex and hissed at him, determined to be noticed this time. "Syvex, psssst!"

He turned to her, gesturing to be quiet. "Eureka, do'sta knul mor."

"I still can't… What are you even saying? And did you see that thing on the stage?"

He kept pointing at things, but she couldn't tell what. "Idrolimen, al jor-na wex. N'gasta! Kvata! Kvakis!"

He was clearly getting agitated, tripping over his tongue trying to make her understand. Eureka watched his breathing get faster, and it dawned on her that that was probably a bad thing.

"Syvex, you need to calm down a little, okay? Maybe we can find you something to write with, that might help us talk. Okay?"

"No! There's not time!" Syvex utterly failed to say. Instead, he grabbed her by the hand and bolted upright; he might as well not have, though, because before the people behind him could voice their displeasure at him for blocking their sightline, his panic over the situation and his inability to speak and everything in general made him disappear.

Eureka sighed. Nothing could be easy, could it? No sense dwelling on that, though; she quickly made the decision that even if it meant going back to the war-torn past, she was probably best sticking with Syvex.

It didn't take long ruminating on her impending transformation before her seat was empty too.


Different facets of the mirror displayed endless views and perspectives on the battle, and the Prestidigitator took great pleasure in taking them all in. He'd been truthful when he'd professed to be impressed with his battlers' performance; he couldn't have predicted that they'd be so entertaining, nor the paths they'd take to become so. For a being that had spent uncountable ages seeing everything that millions of worlds had to offer, it was all very refreshing.

There was a particular brand of amusement to be derived from the efforts the contestants made towards escaping or foiling him; Seventh's champion was a particularly good source of it, and never failed to provide satisfying, if cheap, entertainment whenever its plans crumbled through its own mistakes or the others' interference or through simple circumstance. The grandmaster couldn't truly be said to be focusing on any aspect of the battle more than any other, his attention and consciousness being less concrete and linear than that, but through mortal habit difficult to break even in immortality, his eyes certainly flicked to the shards of glass depicting the pincushion's unfolding plot more than any other.

Those same eyes narrowed more the further it unfurled. Partly through its maneuvering, and largely through luck, it looked as though the bitter little quasi-divinity actually stood a chance of destabilizing the round. The Prestidigitator didn't like the thought of interfering directly with the battle – it was more proper that he turn a blind eye as his subordinates did or did not to various degrees – but if the confluence of events that was threatening to occur got much closer to fruition, his hand might well end up forced.

Before that decision could be made, though, something about the air changed. He tried to focus part of the mirror on finding whatever the source of the disturbance was, but his vision clouded over. An ugly burgundy tint crept over his skin, and he began convulsing, bilious liquid creeping from the corners of his mouth and the edges of his scars.

Behind the opulent armchair he lay in, alternately limp and twitching, a door slammed open. In it were First and Seventh, she with her fists balled at her sides, he with his hands folded demurely behind him. The stricken grandmaster clawed his way to a position approaching standing.

"I'm not sure what the nature of this interruption is, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist it wait while I attend to a potentially-pressing concern."

"I assure you," came a growl from behind the magpie mask, "you have no concerns more pressing right now."

Without warning, her hand shot up and a lurid explosion of nothingness burst into being where the Prestidigitator's heart might have been had he not dissolved into a cloud of scattering butterflies. The man himself slid quietly out of the shadow of the door and gripped her wrist. Behind him, the largest fragment of mirror shimmered and began displaying the image of two mages in some sort of trance; one gripped the apparatus at her wrist, while the other slowly stroked the one that took the place of her eye.

"I may have underestimated the importance of what you have to say, my dear, but there really is no time to address it at the moment."

His hands were shaking as he began twisting her arm behind her, but they nevertheless held unnatural strength. He might have been able to subdue her, or even pull her shoulder right out of its socket, if First hadn't appeared at his back.

"This really isn't how I would have chosen to go about this," he said, a tinge of moroseness at the edge of his voice. Nevertheless, there was no hesitation as he plunged his hand towards – and ultimately straight into – the Prestidigitator's back. Victoria was quickly released, and an elbow went flying into First's gut; he was launched back into the armchair with a sickening crunch.

It would be impossible to say when the sword-cane had appeared, or where it had come from, but none of that mattered as long as it was gripped firmly in the grandmaster's hand, its unsheathed edge glittering irrespective of light sources.

"I really am very disappointed. Of all people, I expected you to stay civilized no matter what."

Heeded by no-one, the women in the mirror were knocked to the ground by an unseen shockwave.

"Whatever happened to talking things out?"

The shockwave seemed not to affect the world around them, but the mirror itself began resonating with it.

"After all–"

The rest of that sentence would never come; it was drowned out by the sound of the room filling with flying shards of shattered glass.


Everything had gone to Hell. It was bad enough that this place had immortal palace guards and a corrupt monarchy, but that the very sky and land had turned against the rebels through the meddling of witches went past unfair into brutal. The force Ripper had lead was all but routed; she'd watched Triumphan scorched to nothing at the hands of a grim-faced mage in blue, and hadn't even been able to retaliate against the hovering bitch without fuel for her jetpack. Dozens of other freedom fighters, all of whom probably had families they just wanted a better life for, had fallen, to the wizards' somehow-renewed onslaught. All seemed to be lost.

She should probably just retreat. Most of the rest of the survivors had. This wasn't even her fight, not really. It was tyranny, but not tyranny she'd experienced; people were oppressed, but she hadn't been. Belay the righteous fury and make way for prudent security.

But she couldn't.

Maybe she was just too far committed, maybe this place represented too much of what she hated; maybe it had been the only thing she'd felt like she could control since the battle started, or maybe she just couldn't stop, couldn't stop, wouldn't stop because if she did she'd see that she couldn't breathe, couldn't feel her extremities, was losing the edges of her vision. Something compelled her to keep going, keep fighting, keep stoving in the heads of every unfortunate soldier that got between her and the carriage she'd become fixated on. Something about it represented something. Something she had to crush.

Righteous, or perhaps unholy, strength and agility filled her, filled her veins and her head and her heart. She was going to die here, but she wasn't going to do it alone. She couldn't die until she'd done something, anything that would be remembered, that would improve things for the people. The People. Downtrodden masses. God save the people, God damn the king.

She wasn't even consciously aware of the graceful, almost superhuman way she dodged every projectile the man leaning out of the carriage sent hurtling towards her. It was just what was happening. She couldn't even tell if she was still fighting any more, or just running, just chasing. It didn't matter. This was right. She was doing the right thing, and she'd know what it was when she got there.

Without warning, her attacker ceased his onslaught, a blank look coming over his face. At the same time, a voice pierced the haze inside her mind

Enough. Do you know what you're doing?

Of course she knew what she was doing. Fighting the royalty, saving the people. Tear down the crown.

Why? This isn't your war. You have nothing to gain here.

Her dash was quickly degenerating into a stumble, but it kept going doggedly. Of course she had something to gain. She had freedom, she had equality, she had warm fuzzy knowledge that she'd done the right thing.

The right thing, in this case, has gotten hundreds killed and injured. The right thing will destabilize the local power structures, leading to a civil war that will kill hundreds or thousands more.

Eggs, to break an omelette. Everything right in the end. Hard to get there, sad, worth it.

Laguja would have sighed if it had had lungs. There was no chance of reasoning with the crazed pirate, and it had already revealed itself more than it had wanted by preventing the queen's battlemage from killing her on approach. Might as well commit; it was past the time for subtlety.

Ripper's vision was still tunneled in on the carriage, but something was different. She realized she couldn't move her eyes, and even though her limbs were still moving, it wasn't in a way she was directing them to, or particularly wanted. She was actually quite upset when she lumbered to a halt just outside of her target, and more distraught still when she found herself drawing all her weapons only to drop them into the mud at her feet.

She wanted to scream as the occupants filed out and moved around her; she wanted to kick and bite and scratch and kill the nervous, gangly woman that even in disguise could only be the queen. She wanted so many things, but all she could manage was a wheezing little exhalation.

Do not injure yourself. You must stay alive until I am certain we have escaped our tormentor's clutches.

She clambered into the carriage, locking the door behind herself with a key she found on a seat, then bending the same key into uselessness against a boot. She sat, and sulked, and watched the retreating backs of her targets as they fled to the safety of the castle. It was some minutes before she realized her body was her own again.

Around the time Laguja's influence was becoming too weak to exert itself over Ripper, it felt the subtle but pervasive sensation it had been hoping for hours now to achieve. The temporal snarl it had been trapped in was unwinding, and not just fading but quickly disappearing. For once, when it really mattered, everything was coming together perfectly.



Everyone was screaming, and even though Eureka could sort of understand why, it was really, really annoying.

"Look! We're not rebels, we're not going to murder anybody! I mean, I know he's scary-looking, but he's not even the worst thing here! Look at that guy, he's pretty freaky."

They'd found themselves in what was probably the great hall of the palace, and the immediate assumption had been, probably prudently, that anyone apparently teleporting in was one of the people they'd heard killing each other outside.

"Do I look like a peasant? This suit is much too nice for me to be a rebel. Look, this is cashmere. Stop it!"

Oh, and here came the guards. Awesome, awesome.

"Come on, we're just trying to escape from them out there! We're here for safety, just like you!"

Ugh, this was all nonsense. Look how stupid and scared these people were. Hard to believe she'd thought about involving herself to save them. Not worth it. Why wasn't Syvex portaling them somewhere not-here? That would solve a lot of problems. Maybe his brain was broken in more ways than she thought.

As the litany of self-pity and frustration was playing out in her head, Eureka became aware of an odd sensation in one of her hands. She looked down to see the boxes' book, which she'd still been clutching even when it was too dark to read; at first, she couldn't tell what was making her feel all tingly in the palm, but then she realized that the book itself was sort of turning into some sort of beige, sandy substance and trickling between her fingers. As she watched, the individual grains disappeared before they hit the ground, and in seconds the entire book had changed, crumbled, and vanished.

That kind of sucked. Maybe it hadn't ended up being all that useful, but she still felt responsible for it.


Muriegro nodded, a rasping moan forming at the back of his throat. He was still muddled, still lacking enough will and consciousness to really form full thoughts, but what this strange woman was saying resonated with something within him. He reflexively tried to form words, but the thick twine binding his lips dug cruelly into the scarred tissue. Failing that, he gestured helplessly at the empty pouch on his hip.

She peered closer, quickly catching sight of the motifs the bag shared with her beloved and reviled heirloom.

"Oh! You know it! Maybe you can help me, then."

As the two of them were trying to figure out how to communicate and what they could do, the assassins were taking their final positions; as one, they raised their knives. Too late, many of their victims caught the glint of metal out of the corner of their eyes; they never even had time to scream.

However, this wasn't because their lives were cut too short by the plunge of a dagger. Rather, they were simply gone, along with their assailants, along with their surroundings, along with everything.

The woman started to speak again, but only managed a single, unintelligible syllable before the lips that spoke it, the throat that voiced it, and even the air that carried it vanished.

Suddenly, Muriegro was the only thing in an endless void of less than nothing. He tried to inhale, but his lungs found no purchase; he tried to move, but without gravity or a point of reference he couldn't tell if it changed his position at all. Without light he couldn't even tell if his limbs were moving or if he simply thought they were. Few living things ever have to face the full brunt of nonexistence, and none should have to. Fortunately, they never did for long, and the high priest was no exception.

Whatever consciousness he'd regained when freed from his god's thrall was quickly snuffed out as his matter diffused infinitely into the hungry abyss.
RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
RE: The Phenomenal Fracas (GBS2G6) [Round Five: The Ambitus Phenomenon]
Splinters of glittering crystal bloomed out of the now-empty frame, perforating the air and the Prestidigitator’s tattered finery; the matter cut by these shards wasn’t just pushed apart around their edges, but sliced right out of reality, leaving tendrils of void snaking out of the gaping transdimensional maw that had been the mirror. The room filled with a soft, silken whisper as air and light and magic hissed through these new cracks, but none present could hear it over the tinkle of falling glass and the snapping sound that rumbled out as the Prestidigitator’s glassy eyes cracked and crumbled in sympathy with his mirror.

Blinded, bleeding, and furious, he growled wordlessly at his attackers. His sword cane fell unheeded as he gripped invisible strands with both hands, desperately holding himself and his domain together. First had begun picking himself up, but faltered as he both felt the backlash from his link to his Grandmaster and heard the man’s voice in his mind, suffusing and distorting his own thoughts.

“If you’d wanted to die, you could have done it courteously and by yourself anytime in the last billion years,” there was a splintering groan as the mirror’s frame and the wall surrounding it began crumbling into nonexistence, “instead of making me do it for you.”

Victoria was tempted to rejoinder, perhaps sneering that only another eighth of her would be dying today, but rage and pragmatism both would have stilled her tongue even if the overwhelming pain she was inflicting on herself with every attack on him had not. Instead, she gathered her wits and her strength, every ponderous step forward an effort of will. First, too, was attempting to recover, but the Prestidigitator’s blow had left him winded in a way he hadn’t felt in the countless eons since he’d any use for his lungs. He gave up on standing and begin willing the cane towards himself as Victoria advanced.

Many things had gone and many more had changed once the eight had transcended their mortality and humanity, but fear had never really been one of them. It had been fear more than a lust for power or a thirst for knowledge that had driven the group to perform their ritual and it had been fear whispering in the back of their minds and plucking at their impotent hands as they had watched their last centuries drain away. Fear had driven them to distract themselves, to immerse themselves so in the battles that their pandimensional coterie hosted, and it was now fear that gripped all three hearts as they faced what increasingly looked like all of their demises.


Ripper glared blearily at the carriage she was trapped in. It was simultaneously the nicest and most disgraceful prison that had ever held her. One glance could tell her that even a normal man should have been able to break out the windows or kick down the door, to say nothing of someone powered by the core, but she simply couldn’t muster the strength anymore. She could barely lift her arms, and standing up from the plush seat she’d sunk into was unthinkable. It took all of her considerable focus to continue drawing breath, each shuddering gasp of which was agony.

Even the thought of revolution, of change, of the suffering of the people outside could no longer distract her from her failing body. She couldn’t even muster up any resentment towards the pincushion that had stopped her from her regicide, any anger at the organizers of this battle, any thought for the ones that would survive her. Her world was shrinking down around her, vision fading as much as her thoughts had, senses and emotion replaced by pain and the awareness of each increasingly shallow breath. Eventually even the pain left, leaving only the inhale. And exhale. And inhale.
Ripper closed her eyes. She would never open them again.


The Countess was… not having a great evening. It was hard to call it a bad one given as much wealthier as she was now than she’d been at its start, but bone gathering wasn’t particularly pleasant at the best of times and the best of times didn’t occur in an active war zone. She just kept herself focused on her long, oh very long, list of things to do and people to flay once she had the resources and leverage this job promised to bring; it was better than getting bogged down in the tedium and unpleasantness of the task itself.

Tedium actually may not have been the correct word for it, though she’d expected it to be when she’d started. There was more fighting than she had thought would be happening this far from the excitement at the palace, and more factions in play than she had thought existed. This whole evening had been full of surprises. While it was more difficult and more dangerous going than she had anticipated, and involved a lot more hiding and dodging then she’d prepared for, it was still well within her abilities. She just wished there was something a bit more interesting to it; the Countess was perhaps the only being in the entirety of this world that would have found the carnage, destruction, and mayhem surrounding her quite this dull.

The interest didn’t come until some time later, when she met back up with the strange man who had tasked with her with this retrieval. He’d taken the map from her with an air of great relief and passed it off to an associate who’d hurriedly vanished into the night; for the first time since she’d met him, Quantos smiled.

“You’ll never know exactly how many lives you saved tonight, Paige.”

That threw her for a loop. She hadn’t really intended to press beyond her payment, and didn’t really care what she’d been doing, but couldn’t see how it could conceivably save lives. Curiosity, reasoning that she needed nothing further from him anyway and could afford to let slip a bit, pushed through her aloof veneer. “What?”

“I don’t actually have time to explain, I think. If things are going how I hope they are, pretty soon I won’t have been born.”


“Bigger things than you and me are at work tonight, and I rode their wake to help unravel some paradoxes. None of that’s too important to you, though. Nothing to do with the bones.”

“If you’re short on time for explanations, perhaps you should try being a bit less cryptic and simply say what you mean.”

“I just knew that a dangerous necromancer was going to try and take advantage of the destruction tonight and raise an army. With any luck, thanks to you he won’t have the materials to be a serious threat, and either my contacts or the authorities should be able to clean him up.”

The Countess ticked this over for a few moments, but before she could speak again she noticed that she couldn’t really look at the man in front of her; if she tried to focus on him her gaze simply slid right off. She tried to call up his name and couldn’t, and as she tried to get a look at him but succeeded only in keeping him in her peripheries he began to turn beige and blow gently away on the breeze. In seconds he was completely gone, replaced only by the brief sound of a satisfied sigh, and she could only dredge up the most tattered remnants of what she had even been doing all evening. She’d scrounged for bones, but why? She was noticeably richer, but how?

She wasn’t the only one confused. Lutherion wasn’t collected enough to be great at deductive reasoning, but he didn’t have to be to be able to tell that there absolutely should be more potential minions than he was finding. Some old anvil guy had nearly been able to get the best of him by himself, and with a s many capable warriors and serious mages as were on the prowl tonight, he knew he needed to bulk up his reinforcements before he ended up in a situation he couldn’t handle.

Lutherion didn’t like being defeated, and over his life and undeath had taken revenge on many people who had stood in his way or thwarted his plans; it might have been frustrating therefore that this time no particular person had stopped him, so no particular person could be punished for his upcoming defeat. Rather, a number of people had simply happened to do things independently of one another and without knowing what the greater consequences of their actions were that crippled his army, weakened has magic, and ultimately lead him to his fate.
It was a bit moot though; by morning he’d be in no position to take revenge on anyone in any case.


Eureka didn’t have time to consider the implications of the vanishing book; much more pressing were the guards she could see rapidly approaching and the difficulty of convincing them not to arrest her and her gibberish-speaking snake. She hated having to be the one doing the talking and she hated having to talk to the authorities and she hated being here and she hated so many things right now.

“Miss, I think that one way or another it would be best if you two came with me.”

Eureka didn’t like the miss, but she wouldn’t have liked ma’am either. “Why? We're just trying to get away from those… scary rebels outside.”

“I’m sure you are, I’m sure you are. It’s just that I’ve got to be careful, right? And if you’re telling the truth, it’ll all be sorted out very quickly and you can take refuge with the rest of the guests here.”

“As-lor k'vasta enbril, Eureka.”

The guard blinked and turned back to the one he could understand. “Er, right. Could you, uh, just please make this easy for everybody?”

It didn’t seem like the worst plan. Even if she did get arrested, wouldn’t that be a safer place than whatever chaos was happening right now? Arrested again, actually. And it hadn’t been too hard to escape last time either. There was no reason to believe that he was lying to her, and no reason to think she would be in any danger, but something in Eureka just wouldn’t let her cooperate. Getting arrested now was a bad idea, she knew it. For some reason. Plus it just sucked.

“I just don’t see why you have to treat us differently from the rest people here! Nobody else is getting arrested, and any one of them could be a spy.”

He’d known since the first words she’d said that it was going to go this way, but he’d hoped he was wrong. With a heavy sigh, he reached for Eureka’s wrist. He was pretty sure that she had nothing to do with anything dangerous to the king, but that didn’t really matter and he had a job to do.

Before his hand had even reached her, she had batted it away and pulled herself up and in, doing her best both to recoil and to seem in control of the situation. “The very nerve!” That sounded like the sort of thing that fancy ladies said.

“Look, I’m not arresting you, I just want you to come with me. I can arrest you if that’s what you’re going to make me do, but wouldn’t it be easier to just come?”

He was being too reasonable. It was a lie, a ploy. Probably. Everything else seems to have been for the last however long it had been since she’d been abducted. She tried to focus on her breathing again, do the calming exercises her quack therapist had told her, but her thoughts were going too quickly and her emotions where too strong and all over the place. She couldn’t get arrested. Maybe she should get arrested. She needed to go back to the future. Or maybe she should stay here. She wasn’t getting arrested in the future. Something had terrified Syvex though.

The man reached for her again and she hadn’t made up her mind and she panicked and tried to push him away and then things got away from her. She didn’t really see what happened, all she knew was that he had pre-empted her and backed away and in the air between the two of them, following roughly the arc her hands had traced, was a rapidly shrinking and fading wavering-edged portal that looked like a very sick version of the ones Syvex usually made.


There was a dreamlike, detached air of incredulity to her words. “How… did I do that?” She was staring, dazed, at her hands, especially the blacker, scalier bits.

She felt hands grabbing her, but this time she didn’t resist both because she was too distracted and because she recognized these ones. Several pairs took her by the shoulder and arms, she was aware of something purple, and the two of them once again found themselves near the forest. It was only a short drop down to the ground, Eureka sporting only a slightly sprained ankle from the height. She looked up at Syvex, speaking slowly enough and choosing her words carefully enough to prevent herself from spiraling into an all-out panic.

“I think… I think you had better work on figuring out how to speak English again as fast as possible, because there are some things I need to understand.”

All he could respond with was a cascading series of three shrugs.


Neither First nor the Prestidigitator were moving, Seventh’s tortuous advance the only thing happening save the gradual crumbling of the room.

“I think…” Her words were disconcertingly calm, her terror and fury belied verbally but unequivocally felt by the others as intimately linked as they were. “I think that this is my fault, really. It shouldn’t have taken my brother for me to realize what had to be done.”

The prestidigitator almost scoffed. “That’s what this is about? Petty sentimentality, the bonds of blood? You’re throwing away all your power, all your remaining years, all the favor I’ve shown you because I prolonged your life at the expense of your worthless brother’s?”

“No.” She had drawn level with him now. “It was merely the catalyst. And who knows? Perhaps with time and ingenuity I’ll be able to put him back together from the pieces I tear out of you.”

She reached for his throat, but with a blur he twisted his hands, weaving the threads of void he’d been holding together into a net he cast at Victoria; it sizzled against her flesh, livid red marks weaving their way across her face as she struggled not to be lost to the insatiable nothingness. A crosshatch of empty space spread its way across her mask, her long forgotten visage twisted equally with agony and rage, and she fell to her knees, mirrored by the Prestidigitator.

“I don’t know what you did to me, girl, but did you really think it could matter? Did you really ever think that any or all of you could challenge me?” It was, of course, bravado, but for the Prestidigitator the show had always been the thing that mattered most. “I always knew you were of… changeable humors, but I never thought you would be this foolish. Perhaps Second has been rubbing off on you.”

That actually managed to make a smirk twitch the corners of her mouth through everything else. “You have no idea.”

First threw the sword. He didn’t bother to call out, knowing she’d hear his intention as soon as he acted, and her hand slipped through enough of the bonds to catch it. Without hesitation or even a moment’s pause she turned the catching motion into a continued graceful arc. She swung—

And that was it. The soft stud of the head hitting the ground seemed like an unfitting finale to an eternity of grandiosity. Victoria lost consciousness as his death joined his net in assailing her mind and body; by the time she regained it, First had disentangled her and knotted the collapsing dimension into something temporarily stable. The cane was still in her hand, a purple glimmer dancing with the occasional pink spark at its edge; her mask was gone, the tiny remaining fragments of it in a small semi-circle around her feet. She felt naked. Naked and groggy.

“Now what?”

The fox laughed, his reserved little chuckle quickly becoming a hearty guffaw before he stifled it. “You’re asking me?”

“No, I just… I just need to think.” Her fingers traced the livid welts across her face; she
knew she'd never be able to rid herself of the scars of the void. “It’s not as though there’s anything particularly pressing at the moment in any case.”

“I actually may have to disagree with you there.” He handed her a shard of glass and she forced herself to concentrate. “Our little battle appears to be in need of a new round soon.”

“How can you. Possibly. Consider that relevant? Just let them languish, I don’t care.”

“I considered that. It was certainly my first preference as well given that we have much more important things to be focusing on, but as I think you’ll remember if you take a moment, there’s a great deal of extremely binding contractual magic at play here. It would be rather foolish to throw away everything that we just fought for because we didn’t bother to pick up the old boss’s debts.”

She sighed, but he was right. The Prestidigitator’s expression could barely be seen behind the mask and the shattered eyes, but she imagined it was rather smug watching her from the floor. With a glance at the still-clutched sword, she picked the head up by its hair. “If I’m to be you, then, I suppose I should look the part. First, gather the others; if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right, and there’s a lot of new information for them.”


Ripper’s eyes opened.

It was nice being able to tell what was going on around her again; the endorphic core had seriously limited her senses, and the time she was pretty sure she’d spent dead hadn’t allowed her much awareness either. And she had eyes now! She'd never seen anything before, and there was so much to take in. All these colors! She’d never
known what a color was and now there were so many!

She stood up unsteadily, unfamiliar legs giving out a few times before she worked out how to operate them. Her hands patted herself up and down, exploring her clothes and her items and her new limbs. All these bones! Everything so inflexible. Inflexible and hard, but coated in soft, fleshy… flesh. And then the flesh was coated in fabric and metal and oh what’s this?

She took the mask off. Not only did she not know what it used to look like, but she didn’t know what anything used to look like, so she wasn’t in much of a position to notice that the already frightening face had become even more threatening as its embellished teeth took on a sharper, more shark-like cast. They matched almost exactly to the ones in her mouth; she mirrored its grimace with her own Cheshire smile.

So now she was up and she knew a bit about who she was and was pretty sure she wasn’t going to fall over at any moment, so all she had to do was figure out where she was and how to get out of this box and what she should be doing. These very important tasks were almost immediately forgotten when she noticed a small silver coin on the floor of the carriage. She picked it up and licked it.

It was awful! What was wrong with the treasure here? Precious metals and other valuables always tasted great, it was how she knew loot from trash. How was she supposed to work like this?

And for that matter, even if she could figure out where some treasure was, where was she supposed to store it?

The coin joined a bent key on the seat and was promptly ignored. Not only was it not worth the time trying to figure out why the stupid thing tasted so bad, her attention was quickly becoming overwhelmed by the memories that had begun to trickle in.

Memories of greed, of piracy, a revolution. Even some memories of her from the outside, though not many of those. Is that what she looked like?

Well, not anymore.


The stupid little battlemage was frightened. Laguja couldn’t fully puppeteer him the way it wanted to, and had to settle for revealing himself and promising bargains of power and knowledge to the wizard just to get him to do what it wanted. It very much hoped that it would find itself in more capable hands soon. Or at least weaker-willed ones that it could gradually dominate. At least of these ones had the arcane talent to channel its magic properly.

Your bravery does you credit wizard. When the queen is restored to her rightful throne, we will remember your service.

Part of what we would be remembering would be how frustrating and craven he had been, but it kept that part to itself.

Though we’ve lost the carriage, this does not change the plan. Continue guiding Lillian and her majesty, my attention is required elsewhere.

Required was perhaps not the appropriate word, but the mystery of Riko had been bothering it for too long. It delved once more into the scientist’s mind, although it seemed that he was no more and never had been a scientist. He was and had always been a physician. Laguja strained its awareness as far as it could, looking for some inconsistency or an indication of mental tampering or altered history, but could find nothing. Were it not for the impossibility, it might have suspected that its own memories had been altered; there was a great deal of physical evidence in front of it to suggest both that this was the man it had known and that the man it had known had never existed. Even genetically identical people had unique souls. There was no way to just copy people, and—

Without warning, the god's ppawareness was shattered. It was roughly ejected from Rico’s mindscape; the brief image of the world around it it was able to see before it was a ejected from the physical world as well was of a shadowy hole tearing itself in the air, followed by wispy black hands pulling it through the gap in nothing. This had the Prestidigitator’s stink on it, but it was different, wrong. Rough and graceless. Painful.
The remaining humans all shared glances with one another. It was several seconds before any of them spoke, the queen’s voice barely audible over the continued sounds of battle.

“What… just happened?”

Her battle mage couldn't answer.


Eureka had continued her breathing exercises, but her stubborn refusal to return to the future no matter how calm she got was making it very hard to get calm enough to go to the future.

“You can’t make it forward either, right? It’s not just me?”

Syvex slithered forward a couple of feet, making Eureka roll her eyes so hard it hurt a little.

“I mean forward in time. Obviously. I can move forward in space, I have legs.” That made her wince a bit as she looked Syvex up and down. “For the moment.”

He shook his head. Being calm wasn’t coming easy right now, but he felt like he was collected enough that he should have made it back to the opera house by now if it were possible.

“Okay, so, it’s dangerous here and there’s fighting and wars and rebellions and stuff, and it’s safer there and we want to go there and we can’t, so we’ve just got to go somewhere safe here.” That made sense. It especially made sense when she considered that the sounds of fighting did seem to be steadily moving closer and the magic in the sky seemed to be getting considerably more apocalyptic. “But we’re stuck where it’s dangerous here because there’s only one way out and that’s where all the danger is.”

Syvex nodded; it seemed to be the most helpful thing he could do right now.

“If only one of us was some kind of crazy magic shadow snake that could teleport us somewhere better.”

It was hard to wince without eyes, but he managed it. This seemed like a bad plan. His portals weren’t working right for some reason, there were too many things they didn’t understand, and they didn’t even have a destination.

As if to punctuate his thoughts, another explosion rattled the world.

On the other set of hands, no matter how dangerous getting out of here would be, it had to be less dangerous than trying to stay.

“Who knows, maybe I’ll even learn something,” she said, trying — and failing — to produce a portal for emphasis. “Okay, seriously, how do you do that? Is it, like, the motion, or…”

With a sigh that sounded the same in Eldritch as it did in English, Syvex carved a dark hole in space and pulled the two of them through. Several more jumps in quick succession followed suit as he tried to skirt the battle and bring them to safety; the fourth, however, didn’t look right. Its darkness was too dark somehow, and the sound it made wasn’t right.

They were already falling towards it, though, too quickly for him to change direction or open another, and Eureka didn’t even seem to notice the difference until they had entered it.


The transition had never been like this before, and the study was clearly different than any time they’d seen it previously, but it was hard to mistake what happened when the three figures found themselves seated once more in comfortable paralytic opulence. The person in front of them wore a familiar mask, but it was neither the mask they had seen on her before nor the person that typically wore this one.

“The Prestidigitator is dead.”

The words were calm, delivered smoothly, sounded more like a weather report than a pronouncement of the death of the omnipotent tormentor that had abducted the battlers.

“This does not concern you greatly, as your battle will continue as planned until only one of you remains.”

There was a pause as though she expected a response or questions, but no one present but her could move or speak.

“Congratulations are in order for the three current survivors, and explanations as well. The pirate Ripper Blackmask is, despite appearances, dead. She suffocated, or perhaps drowned, on the mimic that managed to kill itself in her device. The mimic has subsequently taken over her body. Under ordinary circumstances, I would simply have left it behind as we moved on to the new round, but considering that one of you managed to delete half of what we were considering the contestant from existence, I am giving her to La Aguja del Dolor as a new servant. You would do well to be grateful, though I know you will not.”

Eureka’s and Syvex’s heads swiveled without their intention or consent towards Ripper and noticed the placid pincushion in her lap, then turned back to their host; she was drawing of an elegant blade from out of the cane she held and proffered it towards her immobile charges.

“Additionally, I have decided to make a small change to the competition. The winner will not only receive their freedom — and the greatest gift of all, survival — but I will be entrusting this weapon to them. The sword has slain at least two grandmasters, and I would be unsurprised to learn that there were more. Consider it an extra bit of motivation.”

Shadowy holes opened beneath each of the seats, and the contestants were once more sent hurtling through the multiverse. The gloom of the study transitioned smoothly into the gloom of the evening they found themselves in, though the study had not contained nearly as much mist, nor had the air in it put their teeth on edge and left a gentle ringing in their ears.

“You will find yourselves now in a world both dear to and reviled by myself and my… companions. It was here that we were born, that we grew up in when we still aged. This universe was the chrysalis from which we emerged.”

It was easy to believe. The city the survivors found themselves scattered through had both the opulence and the air of gentle, unmaintained decay that they associated with their apparently-now-deceased captor.

“And like a chrysalis, it is now little more than a spent, empty shell. Do with it as you please. I care little. Almost no time has passed since our departure, as we preserved it in our sentimentality. It is possible, nay likely, that artifacts of our lives and passing still exist. In fact, there’s no reason that the tools and methods of our ascension shouldn’t still exist here. Seek them out before killing one another if it pleases you. I am in no hurry.”

They could move again. None of the three beings still considered in the competition could see one another; Laguja was clutched in one of Ripper’s hands but the pair of them were alone; Eureka and Syvex had been placed away from one another.
“I would say that you are free even not to fight one another and live out the rest of your lives here, but I rather seriously doubt how much longer this reality will remain stable having lost what we took from it. You are, however, free to find out.”

Victoria seemed to be done; Eureka and Laguja certainly heard no more, but Syvex felt a small weight form in his lowermost left hand and heard a whisper too quiet identify the speaker. "Something to let you actually communicate with the others, hmm?"

When he looked down, he was holding a grey pincushion, identical to the one Ripper had held.