QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]

QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Its hour passed, a rough beast slouched its way aimlessly through the city. In the muddy streets it left tracks as wide around as car tires. Rain dripped and rolled off its scarred metal hide. Old dirt and dead blood sluiced slowly away.

Arokht walked on autopilot. To say he was lost in thought would be an understatement. At the moment, he had at least five or six trains all trying to run on the same track in eight different directions, simultaneously. He was thinking too much to think of anything else.

He thought Anila. He thought Outsider. He thought Failure. He thought Sonora. He thought Rain. He thought Disgrace. He thought Anila. He thought Wounds. He thought Sonora. He thought Weapons. He thought Outsider. He thought Rain. He thought Disgrace. He thought Anila. He thought City. He thought Voices. He thought Music.

And then, very suddenly, he thought SONORA.

Voices. Music! A toxic flood of emotion set every nerve in his body singing, sweeping away the confusion in his head -- a sudden, wrathful clarity. There was rage, of course. There was hate. Old friends both, but now they turned inward as well as outward, like barbed wire snaking through his intestines. There was bile in there too, now. Bitterness. Grief. Betrayal, the worst of a soldier’s sins.

SONORA, he thought. SONORA. Arokht stood stock-still, the wedge of his head high and as tense as a live wire. He strained his ears, struggling to hear (his hearing had yet to fully recover from the Godsworn Valley) the sound of patchwork voices. Where? WHERE?

This was a ramshackle part of town. Wood and brick and plaster sprawl, tenements for poor porters and dockworkers. The rain had seeped deep into its cheap construction. A song’s faint refrains bounced around it as if from everywhere at once.

...and it was hard swimming once and now you’re daily diving in…

Damn his useless motion tracker! It wasn’t designed to detect something like Sonora. Arokht tilted his head, trying to triangulate through hearing alone. If he had pinnae they would be quivering. The echoes were the key. Track them to their source. From there, it was bounced to there, and from there...

From a break in the tenement row, where another street intersected with this one

Arokht burst into explosive motion. Puddles splashed under feet and fists. He slid on rain-slick cobbles, braking hard on metal-shod hooves, one arm lashing out and seizing the pole of a flickering streetlight, swinging himself around the corner. The street, intersecting, became a bridge over a canal. And in the canal was --

-- not Sonora, was the first thought that flashed into Arokht’s burning brain, even as he raised the huge cannon of his arm. Sonora had never been so leviathan. Sonora had never dwarfed him like this. But that dark shape slithering through the canal could be nothing else.

In that instant of hesitation and shock, Sonora turned its head towards him incuriously.

It ate the traffic cone! Banana new shoes.

Arokht fired.

Sonora made a sound like trumpets and dove, part of its flank suddenly replaced with dull black ice. Not enough. Not nearly enough. Arokht shot and shot again, but Sonora was down too deep, invisible in the murk, giving nothing away. He fired blind, randomly. Cylindrical new icebergs bobbed up in the water and began to drift.

Arokht snarled, lurching up towards the water’s edge. The raw blue rage pounding in his head screamed for release, so hard it made him dizzy, so hard he felt like his skull might crack open from the inside. His cannon fired twice more into the water, hitting nothing. Past a certain depth, the tiny still-rational part of his mind knew, its radiative emissions would only make the water uncomfortably cold...

Water splashed behind him. Arokht spun and leveled his cannon as Sonora, its amorphous form whirling, crested the other side of the bridge. He moved as fast as ever but this time not quite fast enough.

In the fraction of a second between muscle impulse and weapon fire, Arokht watched a not-insignificant chunk of dull black ice whip out of Sonora’s mass like a stone from a sling. He had enough time to think his way through half of an Iceworlder curse before the head-sized lump met his head head on.

Arokht’s head snapped to the side. Digital artifacts crackled across his eyepieces. His arm cannon jerked off-target and spat fruitlessly into the sky, turning rain into sleet. He was lucky: the angled plates of his helmet deflected most of the force, and impact padding and Iceworlder carapace absorbed about half of what remained. It still rang his head like a gong. And as Arokht staggered, Sonora, churning, wings spread wide, washed over him like an oily wave.

The power of water is often underestimated. Flash floods can carry away cars, boulders, houses. It’s just a matter of mass and force. Few things can be as heavy or as forceful as water.

Arokht’s feet left the ground, swept up by the flood that was Sonora. The world tumbled -- became a blur of browns and greys and blacks and blues -- became a jarring impact of splintering wood, shattering glass, shattering brick. Arokht rolled to a clumsy halt, smeared with new mud, trailing water and debris. Naked mannequins and empty clothing racks broke beneath his bulk. More were hurled across the long-dead shop by Sonora’s thrashing, its vast length shoved crudely into a storefront too small to hold it.

It’s a wash!” it bugled, climbing the walls, climbing the ceiling. Wooden planks and tiles rained down. “I hope you know what you’re doing, because I sure don’t.

Arokht was struggling to rise. Stumbling, head spinning, he found his feet just in time to see a wriggling black tail vanish into a hole in the ceiling. From above came the sounds of splintering and breaking.

No escape!

Blue light flared as his cannon discharged into the ceiling. Three shots, three circles of glittering ice. More glass shattered. A second-story window exploded outward, and Sonora splashed back onto the canal embankments outside, slithering towards water. Arokht shifted targets from ceiling to ground. He was just about to fire again when he realized the splintering sounds from above hadn’t stopped.

Some animal or warrior instinct of danger prompted him to move, and he did. He was still moving when four stories of rain-weakened and Sonora-sabotaged tenement building fell on top of him.

The city was too damp for dust, but the roar and rumble of collapse still echoed across it, turning heads in more inhabited quarters. Some of them even saw the building fall.

None of them saw Sonora, slipping back into the canal, singing.

I can’t compete with no one else, he’s thinking of me when he’s by himself...
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
I’m a jealous, jealous, jealous girl- if I can’t have you baby, no one else in this world can.

Sonora whined, rattled, sniffed, licking her wounds with a long black tongue as she slid under the water, crawling along the canal bottom. She trudged through broken bottles and discarded knives, the occasional skeleton or two, picking clean what was edible as she went. Ice crystals rasped inside her, grinding into her liquid muscles like freezing needles. She ached. She was cold.

But my love, he doesn’t love me- he makes me feel like nobody else-

She had excised what she could- spat back at him what he had given her- but she was diminished. She hurt, and to grow again she would need to feast, and feast long. Her head breached the surface and she let her jaws loll open- and how do they taste?- and breathed the city in- rain, rain, rain, and smoke, and brick, and blood. She smelled glass and fire, gasoline and rotten wood. She heard the echoes of a thousand waterlogged hearts, beating even as they drowned.

You’ll ask me to pray for rain.

Through the canal a dark shape drifted under the water. A few of the tenement dwellers, hiding from the rain in their shacks, heard a distant birdsong mixed with static and weeping cellos. A few of them, those still awake in the endless night, looked out from behind their curtains.

Cade Silverheart was one of the watchers. He sat behind smoke-stained drapes, once a pale pink but now a muddied and stained grey, holding them aside with two scarred fingers. The butt of a cigarette dangled from his lips, smoldering feebly. Watching was his hobby, these days. He’d watched the city for forty-seven years, seen its long decline from a glittering treaty port to this sad ramshackle as the water rose and rose, overtaking the docks and the jetties. Now he only watched out of habit, even though all he ever saw was rain.

The distant crash of a collapsing building echoed through the slums. His ears pricked.

Cade had always had a talent for noticing what others didn’t, even when they seemed commonplace. Even as a child he’d noticed subtle things-- a window left just slightly too open, a footprint smudged in an unusual way. His talent had led him to the police, briefly, and then to private detective work, even more briefly. Both had ended badly.

He got up from his battered chair- a relic of his old office, the nameplate smeared beyond recognition- and shrugged on an equally ragged greatcoat. He folded up the collar, feeling that it was still damp from yesterday. Nothing ever really dried in the city. Even the walls seemed to sag with moisture, as though the years of rain were too much for them to bear.

Outside, it wasn’t much drier than the inside of his little apartment. He’d stopped paying rent months ago; no one had noticed. His landlady never seemed to leave her rooms. Cade only knew that she was still alive by the piles of bottles that appeared outside her door. He stepped over a rain-swollen gutter and headed to the canal, taking a match from its soggy book and lighting up a new cigarette. He let the butt of the old one fall to the ground. There was little risk of fire, these days.

As he walked he strained his ears for the typical sounds of the city: howling sirens and distant cries, indistinguishable between laughter and tears. A dog barked at something scurrying through the street. Someone smashed a bottle; someone else screamed. Distantly the sounds of the neverending celebrations reached him: cheery music and thundering dreams, women laughing. He rarely went to the high rises, the part of the city least touched by the water. Somehow he preferred the darkness of the slums, with all their filth and melancholy.

At his hip, Cade’s radio flipped on. He’d kept it when he left his beat. It had been useful to him as a PI, and a curiosity as a drunk. It was old, older than should still be working by rights, but work it did, and it let him keep tabs on the city’s police- what was left of them. Most nights it was silent. Right now it was crackling like a fire with frantic chatter. It seemed to echo off the canal, hissing and whispering.

“Roger that, Green-19. Do you see anything that could’ve caused the collapse?”

Cade stopped under a broken streetlight, pulling his hat down low over his eyes. Rain dripped off its brim.

….”Understood, Green-19. Keep searching for survivors, just in case.”

The collapse. It wasn’t unusual for buildings to just fall apart like wet paper, ruined by the storms. Most of these slums had been built only to house sailors for a night or two, along with the whores they bought.

The radio fell silent and Cade chewed his cigarette. He had no business being out. The boys who were still on the force from his days as a beat cop wouldn’t welcome him, if they recognized him at all. Green-19 wasn’t a patrol he was familiar with.

”HQ to Green-19. Can you describe it?”

“...A metal crab?”


”Roger that, Green-19. Confirm your position…. Understood, Green-19. We’ll send a cart over as soon as possible.”

Cade turned down the volume. He knew exactly where the carts were headed. He’d passed the now-ruined building a hundred times- usually stumbling home drunk, but he still knew where to find it sober. Mostly sober, anyway.

It wasn’t his business, but it had to be somebody’s. Somebody needed to care about this sinking city, and it might as well be him.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Rain sung its old song on the rooftop. Old, old song. Ancient. Antediluvian. Antediluvian.

Amaranth stirred on pillows that piled across a comfortable room. Shaded oil-lamps guttered low. Drapes moved gently in the flow from a window. The air was soft humidity cut by rains.

I'm so tired. A horrible nightmare floated just on the edge of memory, out of focus in the blurry liminality of exhaustion and rest. The brocaded cushions glittered gently in the light from the oil-lamps. Amaranth closed her eyes.

The smell on her clothes... …

The smell on her clothes pulled her back awake.

She sat up. The spell was broken. She was Amaranth Benedicta, far away from home, plaything of a mad god, powerless in the face of destruction, under strange rains in a strange land.

Strange rains. But they felt so painfully familiar. She could lay back down...

Soft sounds of a city came in through the window. A sigh, behind her. Her heart hammered. They're here, they're here-

Robin was strewn across the pillows too. Amaranth felt deep comfort, almost reached out to touch her. She regarded Robin's sleeping face, calm and open in a way that it never quite was while awake.

Robin...those last few moments of fear and violence. The knowledge that they were all going to die there. And then Sonora, Anila, and the terrible relief that had flooded through her. Her heart had begged for Sonora to keep going, save her, even as she yelled for her to stop. Just as Chaete had saved her.

Anila had hung there for cold stretched-out seconds, and Amaranth had followed her gaze to Robin, and Robin...

Robin hadn't been afraid to save all of them.

It's okay. You can keep sleeping, and I'll make sure nothing happens. We can rest. When we wake up, we can...

Things will go better this time.

Robin shifted slightly. Her left hand flew up and began choking her neck.

Amaranth shouted, then grabbed her arm and pinned it to the ground.


The fingers twitched dementedly, clawing at her leg-armor for purchase.

“HWUHhhh. Hwooo. Hahh.” Robin caught her breath for a bit. “Not the best wake up I've ever experienced, but...well, I want to say 'but not the worst,' but no, pretty- pretty sure that one was the worst. Hhhhaaahh.”

They both sat there, breathing.

“Hhhokay. I think I- got it under control. Perils of the job. Everything that's happened—very nonstandard.” A weak smile traced her lips. She massaged her hand and gaze absentmindedly at the room. “Never had alien ghosts in any of the journals...”

The rain echoed off the roofs.

“I always liked the rain.”

“So do I.”

Robin, we could, we could—

We could just stay inside.

“Would you like some tea? There's a brazier and a kettle over there...”

“That'd be nice.”

Robin got up and walked over to the window.

“Looks...low-tech. That's some things off my mind. Less to go wrong...” She stared at her palm. “I need to get out there, but...”

She leaned on the sill.

“It's nice to feel a breeze again.”

Amaranth fed small, damp slivers of wood into the fire. It choked and popped.



“What you did back there, at the end...” Robin tensed, slightly. “...It was the right thing.”


They were there, in the stranger's room, as the stranger's fire heated the stranger's kettle and the rain poured down over all of them.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Arokht drifted.

Failure again. Failure after failure. Disgrace after disgrace. This isn’t working. Begin again.

Arokht swam in a mental realm somewhere between consciousness and coma. What wasn’t pain was bone-deep exhaustion. A body given out.

He stood in a field of tall grass, and an army of humans in sleek blue armor marched behind him. A dead red worm hung in the air before him, mangled and bleeding. Each drop was a soldier of Raxis. The sun shone in his eyes until a dark, three-eyed shadow blocked it out.

The world beyond his thoughts came in as if through muddy water. Murky, meaningless stimulus. The world within his thoughts flowed thick and directionless, hard discipline and cold logic made viscid by hypnogogia.

Ak’kubal^ut swung the lamp to one side and brought out a power drill from its tool rack, preparing to bolt a metal plate to Arokht’s battered armor. Its three yellow eyes each moved independently.

HQ, this is Green-19, we’re at the uh, scene of the collapse. Looks pretty bad, but no sign of civilians. Like I said, the whole district looks deserted. Over.

Arokht saw a tenement collapse with a roar and rumble. The black form of Sonora wound its way through the debris, singing gibberish. He saw himself trapped beneath the rubble, smaller than an ant, and it seemed as though the whole row of buildings was collapsing too, like dominos, trapping a tiny Iceworlder beneath each one.

Negative, HQ, this looks like an accident. Debris all over the street. It was probably water damage, this whole row of buildings is real badly maintained.

Anila wounded, wounded, dead. Sonora escaping. Amaranth fled down a dark passageway and Arokht pursued, but a forest of frozen hands held him back. “Take the cave!” he shouted, but nobody answered. He stood alone, but for the Outsider behind him. He spun, raised his cannon, and killed Anila with a single shot.

Roger that, HQ. Green-19 out.

God. What’s the point? The rain’s coming. We’ll all be dead anyways in a few.

Shut up, Tom. Help me look.

This isn’t working. Begin again.

He did. Mary and Ak led him through the innards of the Krei’kii’kelriz, but it was also the Kuraght uhr Khteghra, his old troopship. They lined the walls, Robin and Anila and Amaranth and everyone, watching him. You must follow me. You must obey me. The Outsider must die.

I mean, what do you think’s gonna fucking happen? We find someone, we pull ‘em out, they drown a couple of days later. What does that accomplish?

Shut up, Tom.

His troops said nothing, did nothing, though they were blue-armored Iceworlders and he was their ranking officer. Suddenly he felt very small.

They’ll just die a little early is all.

Obey me! he shouted. Fight for me! Only I can lead you to victory! But he was met by silence. He fumed.

Tom, shut the fuck up and help me with this. I think there’s something in there.

What, for real?

Yeah. See that light? Something’s glowing in there. Come on.

They did not obey because they hated what he was, Arokht realized. He was a crude thing, a pathetic thing, and they refused to follow something like him.

Then I must become something else, he thought. But then he thought: How? What else can I be? I am what I am and I was made to fight.

Begin again.

The rumble and roar of a tenement collapsing, but the sound was smaller, this time. Wood splintering and brick shattering. Arokht watched a ball of black ice cracking into his helmet and a flood of black water washing him away.

Jesus God.

Shit, man. What the hell is this thing?

Mary knelt beside his head, shining her headlamp in his face. He was buried under a hundred tons of debris but she was digging him out. Anila stood beside her. Sonora rained from the sky. Mary leaned in closer and her features shifted, her clothing shifted, and what stood there was a man, a tall man, a thin man in a mildewed blue coat with buttons that used to be gold. Anila was never there. But next to him was another man, shorter, in the same uniform but holding an umbrella.

The shorter man began to back away. “What the hell is this thing? I don’t, I don’t -- that looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

“Uh, HQ?” said the taller man, speaking into a small black box clipped to his breast. A radio. “This is Green-19, there’s something buried in the debris. It’s, uh, it’s big.”

Arokht tried to focus and couldn’t. Arokht meant mountain of strength, he remembered. The first thing he remembered, truly remembered with his own memories and not the ones implanted into his brain, on the grille beneath his tank with fluid running off of his shell.

-- named him Arokht, because he is the largest one we’d ever grown --

A voice came out of the taller man’s radio, an indistinct buzzing. ”It’s, uh… it’s some kind of big metal beetle,” he replied.

“Looks like a crab to me,” interjected the shorter man.

“Or a crab. It’s big, covered in looks like blue metal, glows in places --” He paused as his radio buzzed again. ”HQ, I don’t know how the fuck to describe this thing. I think we’ll need more men.”

A second response.

”It’s the site of the fucking collapse,” the taller man replied. ”Intersection of 21st and Greywater. We’ll need something to lift and carry this fucker around, because we are definitely not leaving this thing out here.”

A third response. Every time, there were two, Arokht thought, slipping under again. Except for the first time, when there were five. Every time, they come to me, and they find me. Every time I fail them. Why do I still fight? What’s the point?

Two carts. We’ll need two carts.

The point was defeat is worse than death. He remembered Gelu, gone to an uncertain fate. He remembered Mary and Ak, gone too. Soon these two would be gone as well, gone like the worm, gone like Anila, gone like him. Every time he fought, and every time he failed. But he would keep fighting because if he stopped it would mean defeat, and defeat was worse than death. So he fought again, and failed again, and fought again...

Green-19 out.

Arokht went out, dreaming of failure. This isn’t working. Begin again.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Many of the huddled masses were refugees, from towns and townships further abroad whose homes had been drowned in the approaching storm. They’d come searching for safety, for warmth, and for a way out. They found none of these things, not at first. There were others, of course, who had not fled in whatever way they could. The aristocracy in their ivory towers, the people who served them their wine, and the magistrates, who still pretended to uphold the illusion of law and order. Never mind that most of who could get it into their minds to leave had found a way, up until now, and the police force had been particularly disloyal on that front. A skeleton crew braved the rain, now, rousting the huddles, moving them on - though the huddled would inevitably move on to the next marginally dry place they could find, and the bobbies would have to follow.

Batons and nightsticks were the choice of the day, Thomas A. Swift or his counterpart not having been born yet in this particular history, so sometimes the bobbies left behind them bruises, blood, and the occasional body limp and lifeless in the rain. Such was the way of things.

The way of things took a distinct turn for the different on this day, which to be fair was known to most to be one of the last days.

And so it came to pass, in a strange and twisted way, that sunlight struck the streets again.


Burn, burn, baby bird, burn. There were no birds anymore: all that which could fly had flown from the doomed, drowning city, long before the rain could unslick feathers or force flying fowl down with the sheer force of falling water and gravity together, a force that now struck the streets with spatters and splatters. Soon, not long now, soon it would begin striking the ground with jackhammer force, cracking the cobbles. But not yet. Right now the cobbles were melting.

A metal helmet, shield-badge partially burned off, came rolling comically off a scorched, blackened skull, down the street, down towards the swollen river-edge. Tinkle, tinkle, splash.

She waited a few seconds, and exhaled a deep breath she hadn’t been aware of holding. A plume of purple-ultraviolet plasma jetted from one hand, involuntarily, and carved a sigil into the empty face of the nearest store. A blue smudge spun crazily across her vision, again, again, again. She wanted to take it, hold it, stop that irritating immortality from not being in her, with her, of her, being Her -

It was then she realized there was a faint cheering around her, muffled by the ever-present rain, but there nonetheless, worship, worshipful, almost. They watched her unfold from the ground, from where the bobby’s baton had laid her, visibly evaporating the rain that fell upon her into clouds of steam. An awesome sight, a word once reserved only for the acts perpetrated by the gods themselves.

The vagrants rose up, chased down the other bobby, who was by then halfway down the street, slipping on the cobblestones as the ragged masses bore him down, venting upon his body the injustice that had now been given the impetus for an outlet, any outlet. His helmet went flying. Someone tore his badge from his chest. Someone tore his heart from his chest.

Blood sacrifice to a god.


“Okay, folks,” Rachel subsequently said, at the head of a long and definitely stolen table in a big and more questionably purloined conference hall, “what we want to achieve here is a radical overthrow of the existing hierarchy. Yes, a question?”

“Why don’t you just burn down the banquet hall where all the fucken knobheads are doing their party?” said a heckler in the back of the crowded room.

“Too wet. Besides, this cult isn’t going to be about fire-worship, or anything, all right? We’re here to instantiate an organized response to the current weather and to create a better social situation for all of us, provided we don’t all die. Yes, you again?”

“Why don’t you use your sun powers to stop the rain?”

“You think the sun has that much power here? Besides I’m kind of just filling in for another sun god on a temp basis and even then I’m mostly coasting off of your goodwill and willingness to worship as opposed to any actual divinity at this point, did I say that out loud?”

“So what you’re saying is, we don’t really need you?”

Rachel incinerated him. “Any more questions?”


“Good. Now chalk won’t work, so we’ll need about six hundred thousand flyers…”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Arokht dreamt. The night sky overhead, with its alien stars in unfamiliar patterns, whirled above him like a field of bright dancers drunk on some celestial liquor. The motion made his head spin, made him feel like he was moving- but he was moving, slowly and without much care. He was being pulled, over stones and sticks and bottles. Every jolt made his body seize up with agony.

He dreamt that the canal beside him was filled with ghosts. Voices whispered to one another, pausing every few moments as though they knew he was listening.

So that's what we're working with. I expected more from a god of war.

The alien was here, flowing alongside him. The sleek slope of its head rose and fell as it kept easy pace, nosing through the water. Black tides lapped at the canal’s lip, shivering as though some unseen force was pounding far away.

“Sonora,” he said. He wasn’t sure (and he had once been so sure) what else to say.

“Smile for me, daddy,” the water bubbled, pulling itself free of the canal. It heaved onto the cobblestones like a bloated swimmer. “Hi, Arokht. You're so strong.”

It took all of his energy to form one word. “Anila.”

“Guilty, guilty, guilty.” The humans couldn’t see it. It drifted under the cart and hid there among the wheels, curled like an animal. A predator, circling wounded prey. Arokht had never been prey before.

He tried to take a breath, every gulp of air an explosion of pain. His lungs felt like wet paper. “You- were my ally. You… betrayed me. You…”

“Your cooperation is paramount. Your armor is deficient. It wants us to kill each other. You’re hurt. I do not take orders from aliens.”

His own voice, coming from the water, sounded hollow, false.

“Help me.
He needs help, help, help, help.”

“I… do not… need… your help.

Arokht’s servos whined and for a second he was prepared to rise, to fire again and again into Sonora’s black depths until the damn thing was dead, as dead as a monster could be, but his body wouldn’t let him. He could only twitch in the back of the cart, gently rocking it on its wheels.

“You want to break? You break alone. Get on your feet. There’s no surrender. I told you Sonora was dangerous. She’s the one who bade me, take me, take me. Carelessness will kill, kill, kill. Why did you run?”

He hated Sonora, hated himself for taking the alien’s mocking, hated his body for disobeying, hated the cart he lay in. He hated the city and the sky above him, and he hated Anila for dying.

“I will not fight. You will not fight. You should have just killed me.”


“Arokht- he- they- were knocked out. Started killing them. I will make a display of overwhelming force. Did you kill her? Cooperate or I will break every bone in your- In the open I will kill it. Did you kill her? I would do so with pleasure. If you have killed- a force of destruction- overwhelming force. If you- if you- if you must- you will defer. Why did you run? Why did you take Mary? He’s simple. Why? Why?! Why?! I will not be its plaything. What are you? What are you? Did you kill her? What are you?

“I am a soldier,” he answered himself.

"You're a monster," said Sonora, and it slipped away.


Cade had watched them take the- whatever it was from the basement of the ruined department store. They had needed four winches just to pull it out from the rubble and into the back of a rickety cart. He supposed that that was all that was left to carry it. It glowed, and sparked…. The radio had been right. “Crab” was the closest he could come to describing it. It wasn’t like anything the city had ever seen. Part of him wanted to believe that it was an elaborate prank, pulled by some desperate clown.

He lit up another cigarette and urged the hungover gears of his brain into motion as the cart departed, headed for HQ. The collapse. The mysterious thing found in the wreckage. Had it caused it? Cade somehow doubted that. Why would it bury itself? The rain was going to bury them all, soon enough. What did it mean?

He exhaled a puff of stale smoke that was instantly tamped down by the ever-present rain. Even huddled beneath the corner of a roof there was no escaping the storm. He’d heard only the high rises were free of water, these days. Lucky bastards.

Cade hunched down, crouching as best he could to avoid the fat drops of water falling from the roof. The rain followed him like a living thing, soaking into his clothes, his skin, his bones. Thunder rumbled impatiently beyond the city’s skyline. There was no way the crab-thing could have from the city, Cade figured. No one had that technology here. On the mainland, maybe. They’d left this city to drown with the bare minimum. Someone would have noticed something like that. Which meant that the thing had come from outside. Outside the city, where the raging tides had crushed all the ships that tried to leave.

Was it help? He doubted it. But it was a sign. And if something could enter the city, that meant that something could leave.


Birdsong whistled through the streets of the rain-choked city, accompanied by horses’ screams and frantic, maddened gibbering. They seemed to mimic the distant call of police sirens, howling endlessly into the night. Sonora was dreaming too, as she always was, of swollen rivers flooding their banks and the dryness of space, of wolves, of flowers, of summer sweat, of fresh meat and ammonia-tinted blood. It was preparing to hunt, to flood the city and regrow its wounded flesh. The scent of beating hearts and desperation drew it in, deeper and deeper into the city’s labyrinth. It saw without eyes the glint of windows, the glow of gaslamps, its friend the rain swelling it still with gentle care. It sang to the city, a chorus of thundering drums and dams breaking. It sang of tides and floods and rivers, coming to drag the dry land down.

Among all its voices, there was one that would not sing.

You killed her.

Sonora was hungry.

Did you know anything about her? She was nineteen.

It pulled its lips back from its teeth.

And you, you took her away.

A black tide came to a pause mid-wave, hovering over the canal’s shimmering surface, rolling cautiously. It rippled and bent backwards like an unwinding spring, combing through its length with its own teeth, searching for something undigested. It did not find it.

It craned its neck from side to side.

She’d have turned twenty in July.

It ground its teeth.

You killed her.

It reared up and smashed its head on the concrete, spraying the nearby tenements with thick black water. It rose up again and again, crashing its own body into the ground until the cobblestones shattered and broken pipes regurgitated grey water into the streets.

You murdered her.

Sonora whined, long and loud, rattling the few windows still secure in their frames. The sound was on the edge of human hearing. It clawed at its head with meter-long claws, ravaged itself with glittering teeth, threw itself against the architecture, but still that voice was speaking, even as its body crashed into building after building, starting a chorus of screams and alarms that echoed into the endless night.

Her name was Anila. And I remember, even if you don’t.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
The rain struck the roofs and roads, timpani-prelude to some grand cacophonous spectacle that drew Robin to the window like siren-song. Something in her wanted to follow the rain down, down and through the insolent ground to where everything had been washed away.

Robin shuddered, skulled her tea. "Hey, Amaranth. Thanks for the drink. And the nap." Something approximating a rueful grin. "I forget about this kind of stuff, when things get hectic."

Amaranth nodded, hand straying to her mask at the foot of her pile of pillows.
"We can't stay here for the whole round though, can we?"

"Well, no, but, well, if you could help me with something - two somethings, actually - then we could stay here longer? Theoretically, anyway, taking one the uh, accelerants out of commission would definitely give me some room to-"

"-what are you planning?" said Amaranth, a little too quickly for Robin's comfort.

Shit. "Sorry." Poor choice of words. "That came out wrong. My intentions are good, I promise. I'm going to find Florica. Have you met her? No?" Good. "She's one of us, just, harder to spot in a crowd compared to Arokht or Rachel. She's like a - well. You remember all those bodies, on the Kelriz? How they became puppets for ghosts?"

Amaranth stared, the pollen alone keeping the calm in her voice.
"How could I forget?"

Robin laughed, a noise both disarming and vaguely off-putting. She crossed the room to where her coat and rucksack lay, revealing to Amaranth as she turned around the possessed hand. The knuckles were bruised, along the back of it ran red welts and scratches, and the fingers still scrabbled for the cuff of Robin's sleeve. The necrologist paid it no mind, instead fossicking through her pack with her free arm.

"Ok. So, under normal circumstances, ghosts or souls or whatever you want to call them can't just 'jump into' things." She seemed to Amaranth far more animated suddenly, open. "Not even people-shaped things, and that's because souls are elaborate-as-all-heck arcanic signatures with this whole impetus to maintain their structure, that's at odds with the core properties of the energy they're made of. Blows my goddamn mind that that ship had the technology, just, lying around, to make all those ghosts bio-compatible like that, en masse-"

"Sorry, souls are what?"

Robin's smile faltered a bit. Ugh. Right. Religion. "Listen, I'm sure whatever you've been taught isn't wholly incompatible with established scientific findings. I can't claim (in a gathering of my peers) to know where it's headed (yet); I've just got a pretty good idea what it's made of."

"That's... not an answer."

Robin sighed, but good-naturedly. "Well, if you're still antsy for answers after I go and find Florica, I'm happy to give the both of you a crash course in arcanics and necrology."

"That... sounds lovely, but you still haven't explained how or why I should help." Robin didn't immediately respond to that, because of a mouthful of sterilised syringe packaging she was trying to tear open.

"Nnngrf. Right. Yeah. My point is, ghosts can't interact with physical objects. So if you want a ghost, and that ghost specifically, you'll need a physical configuration that fits them. Florica is a configuration."


"Right, so. Those corpses on the Kelriz? Imagine that happening to you while you're still alive." Amaranth said nothing. "She needs my help before-" she re-powers a wrecked space station and everyone on board's slaughtered by cultists or zombies. "She needs our help. If I can find her, before anything with a grudge does and uses her to start agitating the locals, we can breathe easier but. More than that, I should help her. I'm probably the only person who can."

Amaranth took a deep breath, then strode over and gestured for the rucksack.
"Tell me what you need." Robin beamed.

"Ok, for starters, pass my laptop, that's the big flat square thing - gently! - then there's a black box about yea big with my animeter in it. If you can plug it in for me, I can set those up before you help me trance out-"

"Again? You don't even know what kind of ghosts are here."

Robin tried to wave dismissively, but Cathedral turned it into a clawing motion. "I can't get a sure read without the animeter, but I'd hazard there's less mass violent murdering happening in this world. I promise you, it'll go smoother this time."

Something nagged at Amaranth about 'this time', but Robin was already motioning at various vials and drawing tools. Rather, she was already booting up the laptop with one hand, and the other was scrabbling angrily in the direction of the soon-to-be banishing apparatus. Robin looked up from her screen and nodded at her hand.

"Cool. So what I'm gonna talk you through next with Mr. Won't-Let-Me-Keep-My-Hands-to-Myself there is a modified construct dissolution. If you can start with - uh, fuck. Do you have arcanic engineering where you come from? Magic or spellwork? Hell, electronic devices?"

"What do you think?" said Amaranth, with an admirable lack of testiness.

"Eh. We'll figure this out."


The rain struck the roofs and roads, a million tiny sounds each marking an insignificant journey's end. We've travelled so far. We've. We've we've.

A million messages mashed together into a ceaseless force. Rain bore down on the sky like it had come from beyond, crushing heaven into the earth, pummelling it into rooftops where it slithered off and away under any surviving shelter. Here hid that sky's worth of air, thick and crammed into these spaces, with anything else that didn't want to be washed away.

Here lay Florica, the ghosts possessing her unaccustomed to gravity. They'd dragged her out of the downpour after one had slithered out to investigate and been pulverised by rain, screaming in terror.

Florica couldn't help feeling sorry for the worms, though to be fair she'd not been witness to the massacre the cult of the Kelriz had performed for them. These souls hadn't revelled in the death of all those people picking apart their ship. They'd just wanted to go home. One of the less selfish goals among spectres she'd played host to, if she were being honest-

An apparition swooped into the shelter, not quite a ghost, not quite a stranger. Florica couldn't turn to look, the worms having not gotten as far as sitting her up out of the mud, but billowed above and around them like it didn't quite have its bearings. One of her ghosts braved sticking its head out, hissing a warning-

-and the smoky thing seized the worm, tore it out
and apart
and reached for another. The little souls scattered, panicked, and Florica was back just long enough to twist around and face her foe-

Hey! Woah! It's ok!

"It's..." Her vocal chords, strained this way and that by unaccustomed passengers, rasped. Florica winced. "It's you."

I'm sorry I kept you waiting, said Robin. Can you walk?


She ambled the streets, humming, unhurried, trailing Inderigan finery and a moongrass scarf between outstretched hands where her not-quite-ghost companion hid, keeping as best it could its not-quite limbs in Florica's slipstream.

We're looking for a three-and-a-half-spired church, next to a footbridge. Upriver where it's still in its banks, said Robin. Her voice sounded underwater. In a house down the street from there, Amaranth's waiting.

Florica looked around. A waterlogged park took up one side of the street, townhouses more-or-less stood on the other. Dim lamps glowed in a scant few windows and doorways. In others, ghosts. Don't stop, said Robin, but Florica was already heading for the park. Please. Thank you. I get caught in this too long, and I'll... have to go back to my body, I guess? I don't know. I'd rather not find out.

Florica kicked at puddles, quite content under these rains in a way she wanted to explain to Robin, but couldn't. "Clears my head, it does."

I'm glad that like, not being possessed feels good, but until I can help you it's tem-

"Oi! Miss! There's some somber bird out in the domain who looks could use some divinity in her face!"

Robin groaned. These seemed exactly the kind of agitated locals she'd been hoping to avoid. There were a whole crowd of them, hauling chunks of machinery and marking their passage through the street with a plume of steam. A jet of flame lashed overhead like a swipe and there were shrieks of delight.

Rachel. The tone of Robin's voice gave Florica pause. Florica, let me in. I'll handle this.

"Is she dangerous?"

Very. If you upset her, you'll be lucky if you get a chance to run from that mob.

"She doesn't seem all that upset."

Florica, trust me. She's the kind of person who's directionless without something to be upset about. I'm going to make sure you're not that something.

Florica could've said no, could've told Robin she'd handle this herself and Robin would actually respect that, probably, maybe. But when the dead turned to her in desperation and the most she'd came to expect from the living was their keeping fearful distance, the idea they might spend their fleeting time wishing ill of Florica was just... exhausting. Violence simply begat more vengeful souls, trapped on earth until someone like Florica might cross their path.

If there was anyone else like her. The crowds parted, letting through the sun, whose first words were:

"Oh. You."

"It's Florica."

"Right." Her constituents were milling around until she shooed them off. "Take all that machinery and set it up in the Downtown Station already. Those flyers aren't printing themselves!"

Seeing this Rachel up close brought Robin's warning into a new light. There was the terrible, wasteful anger achievable in a mortal's fleeting lifetime, then there was this... divinity. "Listen-"

"I should, go help these guys dismantle the ruling class. They've commandeered one of the bigger intact buildings, so I guess you could stay? If you wanted?

"That's... real good an noble of you, miss, but I've another place to be first-"

"-I'll escort you there, if it's going to be quick."

"Thank you, again," said Florica, gesturing to her sodden robes in what Rachel mistook for a curtsy, "but I've got-"

"Look, I don't know who else you've run into so far, but you definitely do not want to meet Sonora-"




Robin jerked awake with a cough, hack, and a couple more splutters for good measure. Amaranth hastily put down Robin's printed-out manuscripts, and slapped her between the shoulder blades until the coughing stopped.

"Fuck. Thanks," she said, then immediately stood up and headed for the door.

"What happened!?"

"Call it a wash, if an informative one," muttered Robin. "Hold down the fort, draw up a fresh circle. I'm gonna go and meet Florica at the church."


"Robin? What do you need her for?"

"In that first place, she promised to help me. Stop me been a host to spirits."

"That's your thing? Getting possessed?" Florica nodded. "Great! And I suppose while she was off domesticating Sonora last round, you were worm food somewhere else on the ship?"

Florica wished she could explain, but more and more of the rain falling around Rachel was evaporating. She could only shake her head, and wish Robin were here. Rachel swung as if to slap Florica, who ducked aside and reached for a dagger however useless it would be, but the searing flame shot past her and melted a bronze statue to slag.

"Go," hissed Rachel, over the rank smell of molten metal. "But don't expect the 'good doctor' to fix you. The only fixing she'll do is of problems she's caused. Everything else is meddling."

Florica ran, and didn't stop until she found the river's new edges and followed it back up to the church, where Robin waited with a blanket.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
The Fort St. Alban Diplomatic Building was old, rain-soaked, dignified, built back when they built things to last. Built back when they thought things would last. Fort St. Alban, the city without history.

Its interiors were tobacco-scented, cloistered and humid, rich wood and rich leather desks and yellow gaslamps. Even the mildest personality had turned day-drinker and chainsmoker nowadays. At night the smart occupants in their smart clothes still kept busy, their worker-bee telegrams and letters, aides keeping everyone abreast of recent developments, shop talk, political musings, long silences.

What else could you do, go home and kill yourself?

“So Etienne, any development in the international chatter?”

Etienne sighed and pulled off the heavy earphones.

“Only the saber-rattling over the S. Reine you have heard all week.”

“You know, the Old Man gave a rousing speech today. If I did not know the things I do about troop movements, I would say the war was ready to start.”

“We should be sending another ship out to get torpedoed, maybe then they finally make up their minds who is to blame.”


Olimphe turned her notes this way and that.

“The police, they are saying strange things. A tank shaped like a man, a building destroyed...”

Sidonie shrugged.

“Pass it along upstairs. True or not, maybe it becomes a pretext for war.”

Etienne laughed.


“Do you think Aurevilly down the hall spies for Mathurin?”


“Milk-mannered Aurevilly, one of the Bully's Boys?”

“Well, you know, recently he is sending secretive messages every night and skulking around. And his eyes are always red.”

“Sidonie is right, Olimphe, a true patriot faces the Storm with grandeur and bravery. From this we can induce that M. Aurevilly is nothing but a turncoat and a coward—”


“A man is yelling down in the street—Etienne, go and see what it is he wants.”


“An M. Ginisty claims he saw the river 'shudder like a sick dog' and fly through the air.”

“Which river?”

“It was also singing.”

“Why did he not go to the police?”

“We are closer, I suppose.”

“Well, get him some brandy, and if brandy has been the trouble, then get him some water.”


“Will you be going to Mme. Vicaire's masquerade ball? All the best costume shops have already become sold out.”

“It depends, will she spike the punch with cyanide or arsenic?”


“The police reports grow stranger. This one speaks of unrest in Our Mercy's District and—burned bodies? Fires?”

“What could possibly burn in our city?”

Sidonie sat silently, blowing the smoke from her cigarette out the window and looking at the rain. She got up suddenly.

“The sun...”

“What? It's still hours before dawn...”

She shook her head vigorously and put the cigarette out.

“No. No, my mistake.”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. Call it a wash. And in your anger, do not sin.

Do not give-

Sonora raged, her mouth full of clogging, rotten sounds: howling dogs and tearing silk, engines stalling on rusted pistons, sucking mud, screeching cars. Her teeth broke on glass, on concrete, on metal, on air.

-the devil a foothold-

Her innards were knotted in agony. A witch had taken a needle and sewn barbed wire through her guts, and with every twitch of her muscles it bit deeper and deeper into depths she hadn’t known she possessed. She vomited blood and water, but it only wrapped all the tighter.

We glory in our sufferings.

A little blue voice tickled her ear. Sonora, it said, the blasphemer, the invader, the betrayer, the spy. I don’t really want to hurt you. But you need to understand me. Anila. Anila. Do you remember? Do you know her name?

If you could imagine the sound of a finger bent in the wrong direction, the gristle bending and snapping- if you could imagine the sound of mud sucked through broken teeth- if you could hear a mouse being ground underfoot-

Anila. Her name was Anila.

She swallowed herself and dove.

Cade Silverheart trudged along the riverbanks, burning his fingers on a lonely cigarette.

It didn’t make a damn inch of sense. Not the- crab, whatever it was. Not the smell of smoke in the damp air. Not the city, not the flood, not the rain. He sloshed through a smog-laden puddle, soaking the hems of his already-wet slacks. Water crept into his socks and stayed there.

The ever-present storm thundered overhead, its rumbling a dark undercurrent to his thoughts. He had all the pieces to a puzzle he was too old- too drunk- too stupid to understand. In his younger days he'd have been hammering away at a typewriter, a glass of something nonalcoholic at his fingertips as he straightened what needed to be straightened and sorted through the detritus. A visitor. A living tank. Rumors uptown of some new spiritual movement. Mass destruction of property. The war, as always, about to move from cold to hot. The rain. The city. The smoke.

Cade coughed. His cigarette sputtered weakly, the sleeve of his greatcoat only doing so much to shield it from the rain. It seemed like the downpour was thickening, trying to drown Fort St. Alban for good. Maybe the rain knew something he didn’t.

A flash of white by his shoe caught Cade’s eye and he paused, letting the tired gears of his brain grind to a halt. The sluggish flow of the rain-choked streets had dragged something from the direction of the high ground: a piece of paper, soggy and stained with running ink. He knelt, letting the muddy water claim further territory on his clothes, and fished it out just before it slipped into an overflowing storm drain. It was a flyer, the kind the anti-war protesters used to bother with ten years ago. But this didn’t have any message of hopeless peace or pictures of smiling children: in its middle was a crude drawing of a sun, its rays jagged and knife-like. There was nothing else except for a slogan, printed slightly crooked at the top of the page: YOU WILL BE FREE.

It didn’t sound like a suggestion.

Cade crumpled the flyer in his hand and let it drop as he trudged ahead. The whole damn city was going mad. Maybe it was time for him to follow its lead. He’d be happier, at least. No longer a tired old drunk, wasting away his last few pennies as he waited for the city to sink; just a madman, dancing to the city’s rain-choked tune.

A tune... Cade cocked his head, unsure of what he was hearing over the sound of the drumming rain. The street was empty, this part of town long-abandoned as the water crept over thresholds, into carpets, up stairs. But still he heard some faint twinge of music, some sad soul plunking away at a piano. A squatter? Some drunk, lost musician?

He crept towards the sound, slipping into his old policeman’s stride: heel, toe, heel, toe. The notes tumbled through the air from beyond a broken-down fence between two crumbling tenements. He picked through the remnants of the slats, ignoring the calf-high pools of grey water that threatened to suck away his shoes. Not a damn soul in sight. Except-

For a moment Cade thought, absurdly, that the river had grown tired of running through its worn-down banks and taken to the land, that it had leaned out of the canal and laid down on the cobblestones to rest. A looming black shape was lying half in and half out of the water, rippling as the rain pelted it- but the drops didn’t slide off its surface. They fell into it, pooling in translucent layers over the curving black mass and running down in dark streams. A long-abandoned wagon protruded from somewhere in its middle, dwarfed into toylike proportions. Cade felt his eyes sliding down the long, sinuous form to a narrow end nearly forty feet down the avenue, curved in a gentle S. Its tip chimed with gentle notes, the sound of a piano played by rain.

What in- Cade felt himself take a step, and then another, the water rising to his knees. The black mass shivered, its sides rising and falling. Pockets of air opened and closed in rows along its back as it- breathed? Air whistled through it as it folded and unfolded a hundred liquid mouths, gaping at the sky. Some vast thing from the long-lost sea had come to die, beached far away from whatever alien shore it had crawled from.

And it saw him.

No, it didn’t. As Cade approached the great thing’s narrow end- its head, he realized, a huge blunt skull like a whale’s, its jaws lined with rows of glittering black teeth- he saw that it was eyeless, a smooth black expanse of dark fluid. But it sensed him, as a man can sense a flame beneath his palm. It sides rippled as he neared, twitching like a boxer’s muscles after a long fight.

“Easy, now,” Cade said, softly. “Easy.”

The great thing wheezed. Up close he could see that its breaths were labored, struggling to pull in the rain-choked air. When it exhaled he could taste something bitter and dark, like a pot of coffee left too long on the stove. The great head curved towards him, heavy, ponderously. It snorted, spraying him with dark droplets. He sensed its wariness.

Gently Cade lay a hand on the thing’s neck- or where its neck might be, if it was an animal. Its flesh was cold, congealed, like a rotten peach. His fingers sank up to their knuckles.

“I won’t hurt you,” he said quietly. “Easy.”

“Hands- !” the thing shrieked, its voice a woman’s, loud and panicked . Gill-like slits in its sides flared open, sucking hungrily at the air as Cade pulled his hand back in alarm. Black fluid clung to his fingers, sticky and cold.

“Hands- hands- unrighteousness- a thousand- If I made of earth, if thou art of air memoranda sugar high deprecation, depreciation, forgotten curious violence faith,” the towering thing gasped. Its jaws yawned open, teeth as long as his forearms waving like a centipede’s legs. “You wanted to talk- plaything- game. Love me-killing- has a point never met perspective presence bravery- to you, to you, to help. Living inside of me. Keeping me alive. This station. War. Apocalypse.”

Cade took a step back. The cacophony of voices had burst forth all at once in a scream, rattling the windows of the nearest apartments. Years of paranoia crept up on Cade; he rubbed the back of his neck and scanned the street again. Nothing. Where the hell had this thing come from? What was it?

Something nagged at the back of his mind. A queasy sense of deja vu. “I... know you ain’t in real good shape. I’ll do what I can. But there’s something I gotta know … that big bastard that leveled the building downtown. Do you have something to do with that?”

Thick muscles coiled with tension at the corner of the great black mouth.
“Iceworlder,” it growled, its voice glacier-heavy. “Weapon.”

“Got it.” He didn’t. Cade looked the thing up and down, rubbing the stubble on his chin. The arch of its back rose ten, twelve feet into the air, shuddering with exhaustion. Every breath it exhaled came in whistling whines, oddly musical. If this part of town hadn’t long since been ceded to the floodwaters no doubt the cops would… would… what would they do? Even standing next to it Cade could tell the thing weighed in the tens of tons. Its head was longer than he was, toe to crown; it could swallow him and three other men in an instant. There was no moving it. And to kill it-

Cade paused, the dripping black skull still watching him. His hands had gone numb from the contact with its body. All liquid. No bullet would hurt it, this beast, this congealed river. But something had anyway.

He bent down unnecessarily; at his tallest, he wouldn’t have cleared its upper jaw. “Listen. I don’t expect you to trust me. But something rotten’s happening in this city, and I think you and me might be on the same side. I don’t know what the hell that side that is, but… Tell me what I gotta do to get you off this pavement.”

He felt the thing’s intangible gaze travel over him. Something resonated deep down in its black throat.
“Doctor Robin Pearson. Talking. Introduce….a very good place to start.”

A dry, young woman’s voice. Cade nodded, though he wasn’t any closer to understanding. “I’ll see what I can do.”

The thing hissed and gurgled, then lay still. For a moment Cade thought he could see some flash of electric blue surfacing where its eye might have been, an iridescent fish flicking through a pitch-black lake. He turned and left it, its piano notes still chiming, as the rain did its best to wash away them both.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Hours ago.

Night drew on. Black rain and yellow streetlights. The clouds had rolled in thick tonight, turning drizzle into downpour.

They’d taken him here, to the heart of the city, where the drains still drained and the lights still lit and the elite slept in their manses. His cart had been pulled by four horses and escorted by fifty blue-coated bobbies. They’d taken him to the brick-and-concrete fortress they called Headquarters, and with horses and heavy chains and a great deal of sweating and swearing had dragged him into the thoroughly waterproofed stables adjoining it. Then they left him.

Hours passed. Unseen stars wheeled high above. Arokht lay like a beached whale, a sad motionless lump. He listened to the sound of dripping water, rain washing over the roof, the hum and hiss of his failing armor. He listened to his thoughts, circling endlessly in his head.

Then footsteps. Tapping on tiles. The creak of a door opening. Yellow light flooded in, silhouetting two figures: a man, somewhat short and slovenly, his blue uniform thrown on creased and half-unbuttoned; the other a taller woman, dressed in yellow brocades that were once fine but were now fraying and fading.

The woman halted in the doorway. “That’s it?” she asked.

The man stepped through without breaking stride. “This is it, madam,” he said.

“What… what is it supposed to be?” asked the woman.

“Madam, I don’t know any more than you,” said the man. He stopped, kneeling, next to Arokht’s head. Looking down at him.

“Then find out,” snapped the woman.

The first gave the second a brief glance, a flash of sudden disgust breaking through the deference. He knocked on Arokht’s helmet. “Hello there,” he said, brightly, sarcastically. “Could you let us know exactly what you are and where you’re from?”

And Arokht’s head twisted an inch, and said in a voice as deep as mountains, “Arokht. Orsha-navra-teurekt 22874. Field… director echelon 2.”

The man fell backwards. The woman jumped. Arokht felt a brief spark of amusement.

“It talks!” yelped the woman.

“You can talk?” said the man.

“You asked,” grunted Arokht.

The man snorted. Giant metal machine falls out of the sky and crushes an apartment, of course it can talk. Talking would be the least outlandish thing about it. Even if its every word seemed an effort.

The machine -- Arokht -- shifted. The woman started, almost ready to bolt. Arokht struggled to rise on limbs as thick around as trees. His joints whined and sparked. Upright, he would be as tall as three of the man. Taller, even.

He faltered and fell to an uneven crouch. He knew how he looked. His armor bore a hundred signs of damage, some patchily repaired, some repairs damaged again. On the ground, the man stared at him in equal parts awe and analysis. Studying every inch of his wounds. Building the story in his head.

“What are you, then?” he asked, rising. His speech accelerated. “Are you manned? You sound like a military man. Who built you -- the Muscovites? Nahemia? How did you get here?”

Arokht growled at him. “Too many questions. Answer me. Identify yourself.”

The man blinked, and then chuckled. Holding a conversation with some sort of foreign war machine! “Sorry. I forgot myself. You have the honor of knowing Sir Gautier Lamarre, chief of the Fort St. Alban Gendarmerie for the foreseeable future.” He waved in the direction of the woman. “And that --”

“Don’t give it our names!” she hissed.

“-- that is the Honorable M. Adelina LaRouche, who needs no further introduction.”

Authority. Aristocracy. Familiar things. Arokht seized on them like lifelines in his whirlpool of self-doubt and self-hate.

“So,” says Gautier. “What about you? Arokht, is it?”

“I was… I am a soldier,” says Arokht. “Of the Iceworld Order.”

“Ice world?” asks Gautier. “I’m not familiar with an Order. Are you an Arctican, then -- or did Arctica collapse, finally? Forgive me, word travels slowly here. All our news is sourced from the Diplomatic Building day-to-day, and sometimes the censors get -- ”

Arokht grunted. “Too many questions. Doesn’t matter. You… tell me. Now. Where is this? Why did you help me?”

Gautier folded his arms, frowning, contemplative. “Well…” he began.

Gautier’s voice was made for monologues, though the woman, this M. Adelina, interjected or corrected him at certain points. Arokht listened. Arokht listened to the news of the coming war with the meticulous attention of a born soldier at a briefing. He listened to the plight of sad, drenched Fort St. Alban, the port city positioned strategically to benefit from trade between two Great Powers that no longer traded. And he learned about the rain. The Drown. The end of the city and everyone in it. A downpour like no other, come to wash them all away. It was only a few days away. Less than a week, if the forecasts were accurate.

“Then why help me?” Arokht asked.

“Because it’s what we do,” said Gautier, with a strange bitter smile. “And because…” He looked at Adelina, still standing in the doorway. “Because you’re something new. Because if you came in, that means we might be able to get out. To escape the end. How did you get here? If you’re an Arctican, you’re very far from home. Did your Order send you?”

Arokht’s massive bulk shifted. Gautier suddenly had the feeling that somewhere inside that great metal head, Arokht was baring his teeth.

“No,” said Arokht.

“Ah,” said Gautier. More questions queued for space on his tongue, waiting to be released. They included then who did, and how can we get out of here, then, but these were not questions to push on a foreign war machine on the end of its rope. He looked at the ground, hands in his pockets.

“It said it was a soldier,” said Adelina.

Gautier looked up at her. So did Arokht.

“If it’s not here on orders,” she said. “Whose orders is it following?”

Arokht looked at her a moment longer, then almost seemed to sag in his armor.

“No orders,” he said. “I have nothing. I...”

Gautier looked at Adelina. Adelina looked at Gautier. Something in both of their minds went click. It was a gear labeled with the words “the riots are getting out of hand” and “here’s a soldier without a cause” and “we need all the help we can get.”

“Just while you’re here, then,” said Gautier. “How would you feel about working with us?”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
HQ, this is Station 8, repeat Station 8. The crowd’s getting violent and we don’t have the men to disperse them. Or the equipment. They’ve got a ram and


they’re starting to hammer at the door with it, uh, HQ, we could really do with some backup soon


HQ are you there? HQ?

Station 8, this is HQ. We are deploying heavy support. Stand by.

Roger that HQ, please get here as


as possible.

Compliance. This is Arokht of Provisional Militia. I am en route.

--what? What the fuck? Who are you?


The rough beast loped its way through the city. Scrap metal had been welded to the worst of its damage; stripes of deep blue paint had been splashed on its torso. It wore two badges, one on each shoulder, affixed there with putty. They read FT. ST. ALBAN GENDARMERIE PROVISIONAL MILITIA.

Sometimes one of its legs dragged slightly. Sometimes its joints spat white sparks. But it moved with a purpose and drive it had lacked for a long time.

Purpose again. Order again, piercing the clamor in his skull. Orders from barbarian aliens, perhaps, but if they were only voices he could pretend they were fellow Iceworlders. Whatever. Arokht was back.

“This is Arokht of Provisional Militia,” he said. His voice rumbled across Gendarmerie radio frequencies. “Station 8 is in sight.”

It’s like a small version of Headquarters -- the same boxy shape, the same concrete and bricks. The same barred windows. Above its door in big blue letters were the words GENDARMERIE STATION 8.

No embrasures. No blast walls. Not even a fence. What kind of perimeter outpost is this supposed to be? I could take it in minutes! No wonder these enforcers are so strained.

It reflected on the quality of the attackers that the station had lasted this long. Arokht saw them, too -- a ragged crowd, a small one, perhaps a hundred strong. A hundred and ten. Thin things. Human dregs, some holding placards, some throwing rocks or bottles. A few at the station’s reinforced door, taking turns with a makeshift wooden ram.

Some of them turned, hearing his approach. Eyes widened. Mouths opened. Arokht eyed them, drew firing solutions, began to raise his cannon, began to charge --

-- remembered a hall of frozen corpses, Amaranth fleeing into darkness --

-- begin again --

Arokht slowed. A brick pinged off his armor. He heard screams. The crowd scattering in every direction, confronted without warning by a monster. He hit them anyways. His bulk was a weapon too. Bodies rolled and tumbled, crashing into their neighbors, making others fall.

The press of bodies ground him to a halt. He swept his arms out, knocking more of the mob over, clearing some space. Men in mildewed clothing crawled away from him. Others were taking to their heels, some dragging friends.

“Disperse!” he bellowed, redundantly. He picked up a straggler and tossed it in the direction of a fleeing trio. Voices chattered in his radio: Station 8 as bewildered as the crowd, Headquarters trying to explain. He only half-listened. He aimed and fired his cannon over the heads of the rapidly retreating figures.

As if in kind, a stream of fire lashed across his back.

“Warning shot!” shouted a voice. A familiar voice.

Arokht turned, blue paint blackened and crumbling. And there was Rachel, standing on a balcony on the other side of the street.

“Rachel Wylite,” he said.

“Wow, you look awful,” said Rachel. Then: “What the hell are you doing? Stop messing with my revolution!”

“What revolution?” Arokht demanded, lurching closer.

“What do you think?” answered Rachel. “Anyways, what are you, some kind of bougie? I see your badge!”

“I am Provisional Militia,” said Arokht. The voices on his radio were yammering harder now. They’d seen the fireworks, and now they were watching him talk to this girl in white and metal.

“And I’m trying to instigate a working-class revolution to overthrow a corrupt aristocracy,” said Rachel. She squinted at him. “Are you going to be a problem?”

“Yes,” said Arokht. More alien madness. Can she penetrate my armor? Hierarchy is the foundation of civilization. Can’t kill her. This street is nothing but open ground, if she opens fire I’ll have no cover --

“Huh,” said Rachel. She folded her arms. Good thing this was just a test run. He’ll be a real problem if he gets in the way. How fast can I cut through his armor? Ha, fire and ice on opposite sides, what are the chances? I need to get him away from here very fast --

“Listen, Arokht,” said Rachel, slowly. Beneath her fire there burned something very cold indeed. “We don’t need to fight. You were there when the last round ended, right? You saw how it happened?”

Arokht twitched, almost flinched. I have him, thought Rachel.

“Sonora,” Arokht growled. Beneath his cold ruthlessness was a burning knot of rage.

“Yes,” said Rachel. “I’m sorry. I know you and Anila were -- “ close? “--something. But Sonora was only half of it.” She leaned down on the railing. “Sonora wasn’t acting on its own. Did you see who it was looking at, when it bit Anila’s head off? Did you see who told it to kill her?

She is lying. She needs me gone. She plans to overturn order in this city.

“Tell me,” said Arokht.

Rachel told him.


This is Arokht of Provisional Militia.

Headquarters is receiving you, Arokht. This is Lamarre. How soon can you get back here for debrief? We have a lot of questions here that need answering --

I am pursuing a mission relevant to your primary objective and require supporting intelligence.

Primary objective? Arokht, right now my only objective --

Escaping this city.

...What do you need?

Information. I have a description of an individual related to my arrival here. I need your officers to check it against their database. I am attempting to locate them... for you.

This is a hell of a time to spring something like that on me, but I’m listening. Are they related to that girl you were --

Female. Short black hair. Green coat, large puncture in front and back. Strange gloves. Black pants. Heavy boots.

Huh. Okay, I’ll pass this down to the patrols, see if anyone’s seen anyone of that description. It’ll take a while for word to go around, though, I’ll warn you. If you find her, you’ve gotta come right back with her, you hear?


Wait, what’s her name? Hard to look for someone without a name.

Robin Pearson. Her name is Robin Pearson.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
The water was surprisingly warm. Amaranth hadn’t expected much from the bathing room, but there had been a copper boiler full of enough water to fill the large sunken bath, heated and ready. Then again, water didn’t seem to be in short supply. We’re in a rectory, maybe they use this place for rituals. Maybe I--we’re--profaning it.

She glanced over at Florica, who was soaking in the experience. While Amaranth filled the bath Florica had exclaimed multiple times over it, and mentioned how it seemed fit for a fine lady and that a simple river stream would do just as well for her. But she seemed to have settled down.

If anyone deserves a break, it’s her.

Robin had passed on the mention of a bath. She had ‘too many plans to make.’ Even with the bloodstains on her torn coat.

Not that...Amaranth had exactly wanted her to come.

”Sure, I’ll answer your questions. Cn’you...hmm, do that ‘thing’ you did back on the station? I could really use some chill right now.” She had lifted up her left hand. It shook from the muscle memory of its recently-exorcised occupant. “I’d like to be able to type.”

“It’s not a...substitute for decompression. We’re not in crisis right now...it would be better for you to sleep.”

Robin gave her a look.
“I know what I’m doing. Hey, I’ve pulled longer all-nighters…” Amaranth’s expression didn’t change. “I know more about the limits of my body than anyone else ever will. Just let me iron some things out...and then I promise you I’ll try and get some rest.

“Don’t you want answers to your questions?

“I know I would.”

Not really, thought Amaranth in the present. At least not more than she had wanted Robin to say yes, I’ll sleep, to pull herself together, to stop habits formed decades before they had even met. To wash the blood off her skin and sew up her coat.

But Robin was confident she was right. So Amaranth took the bargain she was given, and sat down to ask the questions Robin had determined would be ‘fair trade’ for Amaranth’s mood stabilizing.

Where to begin? Where was the beginning? Robin’s world, Robin’s rules, as natural to her as gravity. As difficult to truly explain as gravity.

“I know what ghosts are.” Amaranth had begun, unspooling her confusion into words, “Or that...if you asked me what a ghost was, I could tell you. And not think I had left anything of importance out.

“But the way
you talk about ghosts, your approach, the things you say...all I can wonder is what you truly mean. It’s like..” like I don’t know anything, like I’m lost, like there’s nothing you could ever say that would make this all make sense “A man who says the sun and means a ball of heavenly light put there by divine power talking to a man who says the sun and means a thing formed in a nebula.”

She had spent some time on that metaphor, weighing it over until she found the right phrasing. She hadn’t wanted this conversation but she had known its inevitability.

Robin considered her and her words.
“An apt metaphor, given that the sun is used for energy…” She paused awkwardly. “Or at least it is in my world.

“But unlike the sun, it’s not beaming down whether we use it or not...and unlike the sun, we have no idea how long it’ll last...it may be much shorter than 5 billion years. Much, much shorter.”

Robin’s telling was disjointed, full of her tangents and talking points and viewpoints. The layers peeled back with out of order, and here Amaranth was gathering up the pieces. Robin had been...more emotional than Amaranth expected, still at a remove but at times intense, urgent, even…

Florica sighed contentedly, finger-combing her hair rather unsuccessfully. Florica hardly needed ghosts explained to her, and had hardly cared to understand what the patterns that Robin had drawn all across the floor and Florica’s body meant. All those little circles. All the glyphs. She just accepted it.

Amaranth had gone to walk around the building, get out of that room, had found this room with its copper boiler that gleamed out of the tiled shadows when she raised the oil-lamp. Thank goodness for small things. When she returned…

”No, not really.” Robin had said, later. “Florica and her talking to ghosts...what you’ve seen with her...it’s all special. Not how it usually works. If someone were to try that kind of thing in my world--and they used to, but--it’s not really them, just...a thing trying to be them, what you think the person was like, just to please you. Arcane energy’s obliging like that. Just wants to help. Won’t say no to anything, unless it hurts someone.

“Fits in nicely to people’s idea of the good in all things, animism, Holy Ghost, cosmic principle, whatever...very convenient. But they’re all wrong.

“Arcane energy. Ghosts. They’re the same thing.”

Just like that.

Of course, the bluntness hadn’t meant anything yet, not really. Robin had gotten carried away, disjointed, distracted, ruined the grand punchline. Amaranth hadn’t known what arcanic energy was yet, hadn’t yet been told that it was used
”--like gasoline--” in Robin’s world. The big twist ending fell flat.

But now, in the hot bath, rearranging, Amaranth shivered.

Not for the revelations. There’s only so many things you can process at once. But the intent--she wanted to slap me in the face with it.

At times, Robin had been intense, urgent, even--scornful.

What does she think of me? And then, the young woman, pale and worn and covered in hidden sigils, that were washed away but still remained and trying to wash the caked blood out of her hair--

What does she think of Florica?

“Here, let me try and do that.”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Rain, rain.

A clear memory: a painted skeleton, red and blue lines streaking its bones. The cervical vertebrae bound with straws to hold up its head. They dressed it in cloth-of-gold and laid it on a throne to rule the city as the waters rose up to patella, femur, coccyx. At the top of their ziggurat it watched as they piled golden jewelry on its robes. They pleaded to it, clung to it, but they had paid for water with blood. Endless rain, rising as high as the palace roof.

And when the water reached its skull-

“Awake, awake,” she hissed to herself. Unformed wings bubbled beneath the skin of her back. “Magpie- earthbreaker- abomination.”

She lay at the bottom of an overflowing storm drain, barely large enough to hold her. Her sides rasped against old concrete, corroded by years of rain. The rain, the rain- it chattered on the water’s surface, far above. She could hear only muddled echoes beyond. Distant booms and screams. The current tugged at her, gently, but with slow and relentless strength. The water skinned her layer by layer, leaving her raw and aching. Her blood washed down to the distant ocean past cigarette butts, drowned cats, nightclub pamphlets, scattered pearls.

Slipping away to this place- only meters below- had left her in agony. Each twitch of her muscles was electric fury, poisoned by alien venom. Her jailer. The spy. Pain lay beside her like an eager lover, caressing her skin with its wicked nails. It whispered in her ears and promised her endless kisses- or was that the invader? She snarled, the sound sluggishly rising from some distant memory. A dog. A man. She couldn’t remember. Her lungs ached as she tried to fill her gills with the floodwater, bitter with ashes.

It was unfathomable- fathoms, fathoms- that she would be laid low in water. Her mother, her daughter, her sister. A poison. This was not the first poison she had swallowed- Methods of putting an end to it, if you cannot afford its tithe- this was not the first bite she had suffered- Give him back to me! Give him back!- This would not be the first death she had died. Give me some warning. Give me some warning.

Ghost talker. A hunter-green memory. A thread for a needle, a needle for a wound. What tool of yours extracts a parasite?

Her eyes would dance when she was up to some mischief. I would advise her against it, of course, but who could stop her?

Its hateful presence burned her, defiled her. It had ruined her thoughts, desecrated her body. Poisoned her blood. This human-hive, this city, was hers to raze by rights. Who could stop her? Not the sun, not the winter-chemical-creature, not a thousand men with guns and witchcraft. But this, this- her own body. Her only companion, the memories of her mother, her mother’s mother, a dynasty of river-gods. Stagnant water.

We broke into a laboratory- do you know what that is?- and she said the funniest thing, I, I can’t remember what it was... Oh, Anila. Forgive me, forgive me….

A memory? Yes, I shall tell you my memories.

A wolf limping away from a trap, only bone below its knee, ragged and red. A ruined hand, serpent-struck, foul, necrotic. One too many children. One too many graves. Burning the harvest to keep the wheat from the enemy’s stomachs. Sacrifice.

A skeleton on a throne. They drowned it to stop the rain.

Take our offerings, they had said, weeping, plying it with gold and silver, with horse’s teeth and their children’s bones. Take them and the rain with them. The sacrifices piled higher and higher in the mud that had been their fields, their streets. They reached the base of the skeleton’s throne. The king had placed his crown on its brow. It smiled at them with red-stained teeth, its paint melting in the rain down its chin in red and blue rivers. They grasped at its bony hands. Please, please. The rain. The water is rising.

It hurt. Violent, vicious pain, her own teeth turned against her, working softly, softly, marking where the infection had spread and destroying what surrounded it. The great black tide turned in on itself, gently, baleen-teeth combing as one cards wool. The invader must not know. Cutting thread by thread, her muscle fibers fraying and filling her mouth with wild black blood. She muffled the cries in her throat: a wolf’s howl, a woman’s scream, shattering crystal, snapping twigs. Cutting out the poison. Her vessels thinned and snapped, each one a bright flower of agony.

Anila loved the rain. I had to stop her from going out in bare feet. She always wanted to dance in the puddles.

Vile, creeping creature, you shall not have me. You shall have no claim. You, rain, you, city, I have paid your sacrifice. I have paid with water for your blood.

Her favorite umbrella was blue, like me, a very close match. I wonder if she chose it on purpose? I was always reminding her to bring it. She rarely did. She- You- What are you doing?

The storm drain frothed with dark fluid, bubbling up over the rusted iron lip. The ancient street lamp above it, its glass bell long shattered, swung drunkenly from side to side as something slick and black lashed itself up the pole, half-molten mouths gaping in the rain. It sucked at the air, hauling up coil after coil of curdled muscles and nerves that splashed across the pavement. It was horribly rent, frayed like ruined lace, a network of sponge-like holes and disconnected fibers.

Don’t- don’t leave me. You can’t leave me too.

A cetacean head rose up out of the mass, engulfing the lamppost. It leaned out over the drain, rows of needling teeth forming in its heavy jaws. Damaged larynxes flexed and punctured lungs whistled; it hissed something in an incomprehensible slurry of consonants.

I don’t want to be alone.

The lamp creaked. The soft sound of tearing silk echoed through the streets, heard only by the cobblestones. What was left of the lamp’s bell fell to the ground, the sound of shattering glass masked by the rain. A slick black shape limped from the sidewalk to the shadow of a tenement half-collapsed into its neighbor, pooling below its ruins. It was half the size from when it had entered. It seemed to wait for a surge in the rain before slinking away, letting itself be pulled with the debris-choked current.

In the drain, electric-blue lights shone like drowned stars.


Cade’s radio crackled and spat, threatening to give at out at any moment. He rubbed it with a calloused thumb, praying to whatever gods still looked down at Fort Saint Alban that it would give him another few hours. Enough to get just a little closer to the ugly heart of what he was just now realizing was a complete clusterfuck.

He’d spent the better part of the night working his rounds, trying to find anyone who knew a woman by the name of Robin Pearson. He’d pumped his remaining contacts for everything they were worth, promising everything he could offer and more things he couldn’t. Junkies, lowlifes, bouncers, call girls- anyone who might have seen someone unusual, or knew someone who had. He hadn’t been lucky. Scraps of rumors, nothing more, no matter how much he pretended he’d pay. The trouble with the sun cult uptown was making things too crooked to make sense of.

Cade sighed through his nostrils and rubbed his stubble. His contacts had done their best, to their credit. The metal crab was on the force now, they said, walking around with a goddamn badge. One or two had seen it in person, lumbering like an extinct gorilla on its hands. Some of its hands. No one knew where it came from. Some thought the cops had been using the last of their resources on building man-shaped tanks, but no one really seemed to think it was a man. It had stirred up some serious trouble downtown, come into contact with the madwoman leading the cult. She might not be human either, from the way things were sounding.

The radio barked, a garbled message spitting into the moody silence. Cade set it at the middle of the table, between the pile of dirty napkins and the empty salt shaker. He’d been coming to the Highwater Café for as long as he’d been doing PI work. Same as him, it’d seen better days; it wasn’t much more than somewhere to get out of the rain now. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the place serve food. Wearily, he fiddled with the receiver.

“Squadron six en route to Emerald District. Casualties reported. Squadron ten, report at nearest convenience, identify suspects of Corner Street bombing. Squadron eight- ah, damn, we don’t have an eight anymore, do we? Squadron nine, take over for eight. All patrols, be on the lookout for person of interest: young female, black hair, last seen in a green coat. Most recent location, unknown. May have a connection… cult activity. Known alias: Robin Pearson-”

Cade gripped the edge of the table, smudging the layer of ancient grease. The cops were out for the same perp. Things were moving quickly.

“Detective Silverheart!”

He bit his tongue to stop himself from shooting back Not anymore. “If you don’t have information, I ain’t interested in talking. I’m not taking any new cases.”

A man- no, a kid, gangly and underfed- slid to a stop in front of his table. An overgrown newsie, too old to work the paper corners but too skinny to get a foothold in the gangs. Cade recognized him from the streets around his neighborhood. He must have been so lost in thought he didn’t hear the café door.

“I got information, Detective,” the kid said eagerly. He wore the ragged remains of some uptown dandy’s Sunday best, scavenged from a trash heap. “Good stuff. That broad you were asking about- my buddy Robert’s shacked up with the Sunshiners and he heard someone talking. Word’s out this Robin broad must have pissed off a lot of people. The sun lady mentioned her, said some pretty nasty stuff.”

“I know all that,” Cade said. He gave the kid a long look. He’d had too many years of people trying to sell him info he already knew. “Unless you got anything else, I’d suggest you move on.”

“That’s not all of it.” The boy leaned in gleefully, dropping his voice to a confidential whisper. “There was another girl said she was gonna meet this Robin. She went to a house near the church upriver. People saw.”

“What church? Saint Eleanora’s?”

The kid shrugged, reluctant to admit to anything that might lower his finder’s fee.

Cade sank into his chair, thinking. Not a lot of activity in that part of town. It’d been a street full of hatmakers and perfumeries a decade ago. Wasn’t much of anything now.

“I heard you were paying big money for stuff like this. You pay up, I’ll tell where to go.”

“No, you’ll take me there yourself.” Cade stood up, tucking the radio in his pocket. It squealed and chattered, dissolving into incomprehensible static. As leads went, this was thin, but it was damn well better than nothing. “I’m not paying you to run off and sell the same story to the cops the second you leave. We’ll take the short way through Pure Street. And don’t forget your coat.”


“This- this is where it happened?”

Lieutenant Geurin nodded.

A wreckage of bodies was scattered across the square, gathered roughly into heaps. The soft tissues had been eaten first, the hollows of empty rib cages filling themselves now with rain. The toughest sections- the tendons of the wrists and ankles, the long bones- had been discarded, along with the metal fixtures of belts, rings, watches, guns. What was left of the skin was deathly pale, bloodless. Faces stared at him with vacant expressions, missing eyes and tongues.

“What could do this?” His partner, younger by a decade, was kneeling on the cobblestones. Geurin had just finished politely ignoring him vomit. “What…?”

“Don’t know.” Geurin wasn’t in the mood for conversation. He and the rookie were all that was left of squadron six. The others had been smoked by the cult. Reports said Ardoin’s heart had been ripped out, the rest of him burned. Even someone at his pay grade could tell the city was losing its last pretense of civility. “Looks like an animal.”

“An animal,” Debarr echoed hollowly. His drained face made him look even younger than his twenty years.

“Big one.” Guerin moved among the bodies. IDing them would be a nightmare. Some were little more than skeletons, feebly tangled in the remnants of coats and boots. Ordinary people caught out in the rain. Headquarters might never get around to finding the families. He flicked on his radio. “Six here. Reports were accurate. Emerald District, mass casualties. No survivors in sight. Bring the wagons-”

“Lieutenant,” Debarr said.

Deep in the mouth of an alleyway, one of the piles was moving. Geurin’s gun was drawn in an instant, pointed into the heart of the shadows. Something gurgled near the gutters- something huge and dark, glistening under the dull orange streetlights. A smooth, black back arched over the ruined remains of a body, nosing over the shredded wreck of something Geurin couldn’t call a man or a woman. Its hands and face were little more than pulp, red and white masses sinking into black water.

“You in there, come out,” Geurin ordered. He flicked the safety off his gun, the click echoing across the square. “Hands up. Take it slow.”

The water around the body paused- paused and then gathered together, impossibly pulling into an amorphous black head and gill-pocked neck. Teeth longer than his hands bristled along its lips. “Poison, Anila,” the water keened softly, its voice- its voice?- dancing on the edge of his hearing.

“Step away from the victim,” Geurin heard himself say, absurdly. His derringer was cold in his hand.

The head tilted, swiveling until its bottom jaw had become its upper. It didn’t seem to take notice of the rain, though drops were falling through the hollow spaces in its neck and pattering onto its catch. Rope-like muscles crawled over its skull, reforming around its new positioning.

“Nesting habits of the southern whippoorwill,” it chittered. “Feast, feast, and you- you- shall- not- have-”

He pulled the trigger. A burst of black spray erupted from the thing’s side and it bucked, snarling, screaming a furious song of clashing iron. It plunged down onto the corpse, sucking it into the dark recesses of its body with long, fingerlike cilia. Its surface rippled as hidden internal muscles contracted around the wreck, crushing its bones with a series of muffled cracks.

Geurin fumbled for his radio even as the thing lunged for poor Debarr, snaring an ankle with an oily black arm. The lieutant fled, boots pounding on the cobblestones as his partner’s desperate cries echoed in the empty streets, disappearing into the rush of the pounding rain. “Squadron six reporting- Emerald District lost- anyone heading this way, turn back! Get to higher ground! Turn back!”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Morning was beginning its daily fumbling attempts to pierce through the clouds as Cade and the boy arrived at the church, although from the looks of things it was already beginning to give up. There was a light on in a building towards the back, so Cade paid the kid a haggled amount and attempted to scare him off of going immediately to the cops with warnings of long interrogations and possible detainment just for having any connection to the ‘sun lady.’ Probably wouldn’t work.

Cade considered the church. Front door, side door, back door? He was getting too old to go in through a window. And picking a lock just didn’t feel right, even if it was in pursuit of a woman he doubted was a member of the church. Cade rubbed his forehead. It had been a long night. Usually around this time--and after this many drinks--he would be drifting off into an uneasy doze. But instead he was here, chasing down a lead for a thing he didn’t even begin to know the name of.

He wasn’t sure how Mlle. Pearson would feel about knowing that--beast?--had been looking for her, but she didn’t need to know. All he needed to do was pin down her location. Besides, he felt in his gut that it was somehow, without a doubt, her responsibility.

Apparently, more than a few things in this town this morning were her responsibility.

Cade walked down the loose-stoned path to the door closest to the lit window. It wasn’t St. Eleanora’s, after all, but a smaller church, and his rudimentary education on symbology didn’t help him identify whatever saint it was dedicated to. He wondered if they even had a flock to speak of anymore.

He knocked on the door. It was good material, hadn’t gone rotten through yet. He hoped the cops wouldn’t destroy it once they got the tip-off.

He switched the radio off, silencing the almost-comforting static and half-words. In the quiet, a metal pipe dripped into a barrel, its sound echoing around the small courtyard. After about 20 drips, a young nun opened the door hesitantly. She looked exotic in a way Cade couldn’t remember ever having seen before, and he squinted at her in the shaded half-light. She gave him a remarkably hard look--Cade knew he didn’t look reputable, but was it really that bad?--and seemed to be weighing whether to close the door in his face.

“I’m looking for Robin Pearson,” he said quickly, “I’ve heard this is where she’s at.”

Now that got a reaction. The nun was startled, angry--scared. She seemed to weigh options again, scanned the courtyard to see if anyone else was watching.

“I see. You had best come inside.” Her accent was just as unplaceable as her looks--Cade reminded himself to focus on finding Robin Pearson and not on the mystery of this nun who had seemingly travelled across half the world to die on a foreign island. Faith demands sacrifice, he supposed. Although he couldn’t shake the feeling he had heard her voice before.

She led him down a hallway dimly lit by a single overcast window at the end. Another nun--or perhaps a woman under the care of the church, she wore no veil and bore the look of someone haunted by her past--peered from around a corner curiously.

“Should I get--”

“It’s all right,” the first nun cut her off, “I’m seeing to it. And put on your veil.” A new initiate, then. She made a small look of concern, then darted off, up a flight of stairs from the sound of it.

“In here, please.” The nun led him into a small room made smaller by rows of bookcases, with chairs in the corners, two low couches and a long table. Cade wondered how many of the books were too rotten to read anymore. He took a seat, and after lighting the small oil-lamp--with some difficulty--the nun did as well.

“Now, where did you hear the name ‘Robin Pearson?’”

“Sister,” he said, and the nun furrowed her brow at him, “I know I don’t look like a good citizen, but I’m no criminal. I’m looking for Mlle. Pearson to--” how to put it? “--to let her know her friend is sick.”

The nun’s expression hardened further.
“Her friend.”

He seemed to be saying all the wrong things. He was reminded of being a young boy, lying to the nuns who tried to teach him and the other hard-luck kids the alphabet and various virtues, lying about who had thrown this or who had started that. They had always been able to tell when someone was lying. Or maybe Cade had just always lied and they had always assumed his guilt.

He looked at the nun. She seemed pretty ready to assume his guilt too. He doubted a story of a limping creature of water and shadow beaching itself on the side of the river and calling out for Robin Pearson in a human tongue would gain him sympathy or belief.

“Listen,” he began awkwardly, and slouched to his feet. The nun rose--quickly. “I just want to speak to Mlle. Pearson--I’ve got information for her ears only.” He made for the door. She was likely up in the second-story lit room. He wasn’t a man who enjoyed being forceful, but he didn’t have the time for this nun to give him the third degree.

The nun moved faster than he expected, standing between him and the door.

“Sit back down.”

“Sister, please.” She was angry now--Cade couldn’t understand it. Who was Robin Pearson? “This is-” might as well say it, “You don’t have time for this. The cops are probably on their way as we speak.”

She didn’t look any happier, which Cade had expected, and then suddenly he was in a submission hold with his arm wrenched and slammed into a bookshelf, which he hadn’t expected.

“Start talking. What did you do.” she hissed, and the out-of-place smell of humid early summers grew stronger.

“What the hell kind of nun are y-” She wrenched his arm. Cade had been in plenty of situations like this, but never with a young nun--or perhaps, he thought, perhaps not a nun after all--or a young woman of any kind. It was disconcerting.

“I didn’t,” he breathed, “Send the damn cops, but they’re on their way all the same. Lotta people talking about your friend tonight.”


Cade tried to sort through all the information so it could be delivered in a way that wouldn’t get his arm wrenched again, when someone tapped at the door and then another person opened it impatiently. In the doorway stood the worried young nun (not-a-nun?) and a man--no, a woman, dressed like a man, bloodstained, with hair cut short to her jawline. Somehow he could guess that this was Robin Pearson.

The nun had straightened up slightly but still held him tight. There was a long, tense pause, and then Pearson started laughing.

Amaranth, she chuckled, “What are you doing?

“I’m glad you--I’m glad you think this is funny.”

“Florica tells me some man is asking for me and I come in to find you bad-copping it up in a nun habit. It’s like a schlocky movie.” She laughed a little to herself and shook her head. “Besides, I’m still a little hopped-up.”

“You realize what this means, don’t you? We’ve barely been here for a couple hours and our location’s already compromised. People are looking for us! For you!” Déjà vu pricked again in the back of Cade’s head.

“‘Our location’s compromised’--you really are a soldier. I’m surprised you don’t get along with Arokht better.” Amaranth’s hand clenched painfully around Cade’s arm. Pearson smiled and walked into the room, and Cade heard a thud from the couch. “Now, let him go and I can be the good cop.”

“Arokht.” Her voice was cold and contorted. “Yes, Arokht. I’m so glad you remember Arokht. But you know, you didn’t really know him. You didn’t see--Arokht, who slaughtered a dozen helpless people without a second thought--he held Anila, he held her, like she was the most precious thing in his entire world. Her voice was laughing spite and strained terror. “And now--” and she did laugh a tiny bit, “And now she’s dead.” The last word was thrown at Pearson, rough with emotion.

The room was silent.

Amaranth let out a long, shuddering sigh, and startled Cade by beginning to frisk him, tossing his shoulder-holstered gun onto the floor.

“Handcuffs are inner jacket pocket.” He said, guessing her intention and wanting to avoid drawing this out. I probably should have said something, but you can’t interrupt a scene like that. Especially when you’re in an armlock. She cuffed him, but continued diligently patting him down. A soldier, huh. His arm was numb from where she had been holding it.

Amaranth flipped him around, sitting him on the couch across from Pearson. She stayed standing. Pearson looked lost in concerning thought, no longer amused by the situation. The young girl--Florica--was on a chair in the corner, watchful but evidently feeling that she wasn’t really a part of this conversation.

“So, did Arokht send you then?”

Cade tried to shrug, was hampered by handcuffs.

“I don’t think so.” Arokht--he had heard that name over the radio. “I don’t know the name of the thing that was asking after her--if it has a name.”

Pearson perked up, looked excited.
“Was it--”

“Don’t ask leading questions.” Amaranth cut her off, sighed. “Describe what sent you.”

“Well…” Cade began, searching for a way to describe the indescribable.