Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)

Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
Re: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
Originally posted on MSPA by Anomaly.

Tengeri first glanced up at the holes in the ceilings above. Several of them had sealed themselves while they had been occupied with removing the gauntlet from Velobo. With any luck, the woman that attacked them wouldn't be bothering them for a while. She then took a glance at Ursus. Fully unconscious; numerous bones fractured. For the time being, at least, they were out of danger.

"What does that gauntlet do, exactly? I picked up some energy fluctuations a while ago, which led me to it. And then Velobo was held to it by some kind of force. It's all entirely foreign to the universe I come from."

Dorukumets held up the gauntlet, beaming with pride. "The Gauntlet of Genko is a powerful artifact, and a gift from an old friend! I am not sure why Calidad was ensnared in it, but he somehow managed to activate it! I believe he has some relation to the friend I mentioned, as a matter of fact."

"Interesting... Velobo, are you alright? What happened back there?"

Velobo hesitated for a moment. "The short version is that I just met the man who gave me my name. The man who is trying to realize the potential of the Plazmuths. He... chose me for this task.

"The gauntlet's fluctuations did grow stronger as you were falling... although you were only falling for a few seconds. Perhaps you were contacted mentally."

"Probably..." Velobo stared at the band on his arm. "He said that the Plazmuths' ancient technology is awakening across the multiverse."

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

A quartet of two-pupilled eyes flicked up from a handheld display and focused on the figure standing in the doorway. A small, carapaced creature clutched its own datapad against its gray uniform. The Director could tell little of the urgency of the matter - his addresser's species was notoriously unexpressive (to non-telepaths).

"What is it, Cendil?"

The bipedal arthropod stepped into the unusually brightly-lit room, shielding his eyes with one arm. The winged figure seated behind the desk quietly watched as the visitor impassively strode across the room.

"Are you familiar with the artifacts of the 'Plazmuth'?" Cendil questioned, placing the datapad on the Director's desk.

Valdar Zhernan, the head director of the Neramis Science Coalition, was indeed familiar with these artifacts. One of them had been discovered on his homeworld long before the NSC had been founded. His species, the Reluzir, had long attempted to activate the mysterious technology seemingly discarded by the Plazmuth - at no point in recorded history had the presumably-extinct species made contact with either the Reluzir or the planet's other sapient race. Many similar devices and artifacts had been found on a variety of planets, yet all analyses turned up no methods of activation. One of the greatest mysteries held by the Coalition.

"Quite aware," Director Zhernan responded, taking up the datapad in a three-clawed hand. As he quickly scanned through its contents, his eyes widened. "The artifacts are-"

"Activating, yes. We aren't yet sure what's causing it, but the multiversal research facility on Typhra may have a lead."

"Multiversal. You're saying that something's activating them from outside of our universe?"

"It seems likely. Moreover, they have managed to trace it to what is likely its origin universe, with 97% likelihood."

"Are you asking for authorization of a cross-universal expedition, Cendil?" the Director continued. "That technology's still in testing."

"Director, are you aware of the cyberneticist Tengeri Nyoka?"

"Yes." Zhernan frowned at the sudden change in subject. "She went missing this morning. What does that have to do with the Plazmuth?"

"Her last known location - a medical facility - was searched by Levian authorities. Nothing was found. NSC agents were sent to investigate, and a seemingly-unrelated extra-universal signal was discovered. Its signature was nearly identical to that left by the Ninth Kryesan when they disappeared, though with a different origin."

"You think that something's taking them from our universe, then?"

"It is the most logical conclusion. It is unlikely, though possible, that the two events are correlated. As we have been unable to localize the origin of the anomaly that extracted Dr. Nyoka, we wish to investigate the Plazmuth activation signal."

The director knew the risks. The technology had been in testing for two cycles, but it wasn't yet perfect. Nonetheless, the signal had been localized, and was unlikely to last indefinitely. There was no guarantee that the signal's origin would remain fixed - this could have been the only chance to make contact with what was likely an advanced race.

He approved the expedition. Little did he know, however, how conveniently the two events of the day were linked.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Plazmuths... Were there artifacts held by the NSC under that designation? Tengeri's database failed to turn anything up. Another possible hope for escape gone, Tengeri decided to change the subject.

"How much has Velobo told you?" she asked Dorukomets. "About the battle."

"Calidad has told us quite a lot! I have heard that you, too, have been a part of this GLORIOUS battle to the death?"

Tengeri frowned. "I wouldn't call it glorious, but, unfortunately, yes. I have no intention of pandering to this 'Fool' and his games. This is not the only of these battles, but, with any luck, it will be the last. I... we will stop him."

"The last? How do you plan on doing that?" Velobo questioned, surprised. She'd never mentioned confronting the Fool before.

"We... I have to kill him. It's the only way."

A lot of talk. You really think you'll be able to do it when the time comes? You couldn't even kill Scofflaw when you had the chance, she rebutted mentally.

"Kill him?" Dorukomets responded, perplexed. "You don't seem much like a warrior to me. I fear that the Fool could be a challenge for me, even with this gauntlet!"

Tengeri didn't respond. Dorukomets was right, in his own way. What chance did she really have of killing the Fool? He could throw them across the multiverse at the snap of his fingers. He could fully paralyze them with a glance. Even if she got her lack of hands on this mythical vorpal god-killing weapon of probable doom, what good would it do if she couldn't use it?

What good would it do if she didn't even try?

"Have you heard of..." Tengeri paused as the name was displayed before her eyes, "...Lancelot Mortimer Veritas Garland? A merchant?"

"Lancelot... Garland... Nope. I have unfortunately not, though they surely have heard of me!" Dorukomets laughed.

Tykidu spoke up. "I've heard of him! He always hides out in ancient ruins and overlord lairs and sells things to heroes! Why do you ask?"

"He says he can forge a weapon that can kill gods. I believe he may be exaggerating, but... It's the only chance I have." Tengeri telekinetically drew a purplish feather from her storage device. "This is what he asked for. I'm going to deliver it now. Please be careful, I don't want anyone else to die. I think the woman that attacked us a few minutes ago - Lady Midday, was it? - may be approaching. I'd recommend leaving the area immediately."

Tengeri ignored their protests as she stowed the feather and darted off down the hall. True, this "Lady Midday" had a threat level near that of Scofflaw, but she had also been incapacitated by a cube with a sticky tongue. All that mattered now was getting her weapon before someone's death sent them hurtling across the multiverse once more - that is, if those rules were still in play.

Re: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
Originally posted on MSPA by SleepingOrange.

TinTen blinked behind his goggles as he stepped out of the hatch leading out of the dungeon and into the hangar. It was almost ironic that his discomfort in the sudden, blinding light was probably his only current problem that he wouldn’t try to tie in some way to Scofflaw, but was the one most directly resulting from his actions; when the Tyrant cum Sadist had recalibrated Caelo Ruinam’s energy expenditures, he’d significantly lowered the light levels in the portions of the fortress that didn’t really need visibility too much (i.e. just about anywhere that was more likely to be occupied by a rat or ancient guardian than a soldier or technician) while simultaneously activating a number of skylights and observation ports that lit the hangar up with the midday sun without having to waste power on clunky old thaumoelectric devices. The end result was a .07% increase in Ruinam’s overall efficiency, a four minute faster recharge time on the Sunstroke device, and one very disoriented squid.

By the time he’d rubbed the stars out of his eyes, the enormous room’s occupants had already sized him up, considered their options, and proceeded to discount him: he wasn’t one of the heroes they’d been warned about, he wasn’t on the ever-growing list of Known Threats occupying the fortress’s lower regions, and he certainly looked like the kind of thing Midday or her lieutenants would dredge up to serve some sort of horrible purpose. He was certainly no Ursus, certainly not as bad as that guy with all the organs. Not even as bad as some of their more tentacular superiors. If he was just a monster, or if he was another vigilante that the heroes had drafted into their increasingly-ragtag cause, well… There were hundreds of them. They could afford to wait until he did something to prove himself a target a lot more than they could afford to accost a trigger-happy senior officer on Midday’s constantly-rotating roster of psychopaths and twisted geniuses. And so the ones who had even noticed him went back to their business, which mostly involved looking as military as possible while waiting for the next ground invasion and trying not to wonder if Ruinam had rendered them obsolete. They’d seen what happened to unnecessary personnel in the past.

TinTen, for his part, tried not to visibly blanch as the place and its occupants came into focus; he certainly hadn’t been prepared for or expecting to wander directly into a bigger military presence than he’d even seen at any given time on the Battlefield. Or their legions of mechs and exosuits and what were clearly armed atmospheric combat vehicles. Or their very, very shiny white uniforms with what looked like a bloody solar star on them. He tried not to let himself be overwhelmed, or at least not to show it. He wasn’t sure how much he’d succeeded.

At least it was heartening that none of them had made any move to apprehend or even accost him; most seemed entirely content to ignore him entirely, even the ones who had to have seen him enter. If he’d been lead into this place, he reasoned, and his goal was across it, then there was no reason to worry about the outcome. He just had to trust in his own judgment and prognostication. He noted with a little spark of hope that there were a handful of nonhumans interspersed throughout the ranks of the soldiers, more of them occupied with shouting at the men than marching formation drills or maintaining equipment and a number of them pretty clearly not bothering with any kind of uniform or insignia. The trick would be to act like he knew what he was doing. Like he had every right to be here and anyone stopping him was an idiot and worse an impediment to someone much more important than they were. He pulled out a datapad and strode-slithered onto the polished floor.

It worked surprisingly well, although TinTen didn’t know that it was only their leader’s burning-hands-on approach to commandership and her higher-ups’ tendency to get murdered and replaced with little notice that let it. Besides, humanity as a species was always a little cowed by authority and tended to assume people who acted like they were right or in charge were. There was eusociality for you. A little easy to exploit from outside.

All in all, it was probably the best way the scientists could have accomplished this portion of his trek; on the other hand, if he hadn’t been so preoccupied with projecting the illusion of belonging, he might have noticed when he walked past the communications and engineering office that contained Scofflaw Prime and his pair of doppelgangers.


The brain gave grim little green smile as he watched a monitor.

“Excellent. TinTen has passed us by without notice, and is en route to Midday’s bedchambers. He will likely discover Blue Ray’s remains in short order.”

“Oh. Good.” The heart paused for a few moments to consider, before blurting out “Oh no! You don’t think she’ll kill him, do you?”

“Perhaps. Why should it matter? It simply saves… Ah, no, you’re right. It would be disadvantageous if he were to be killed before Tengeri could acquire her weapon. Nevertheless, our position gives us little ability to influence his survival. He seemed competent enough on the way here. At the very least, he should be able to hold his own long enough for the Tengeri to reach the merchant.”

The heart sniffled. “Well, yeah, all that stuff too… But, well… It’s just… It’s been a long time since anyone’s hated us that much, you know?”

Green Ray gave him a sidelong look. “I find myself thankful that I am not the Prime, and will never have you as an integral part of my personality.”


It was Alex’s turn to look surprised. “Yeees, magic. Are you telling me this thing doesn’t have a mana battery?”

Huebert nearly scoffed and said something to the effect of don’t be ridiculous, there’s no such thing as magic, but… Thoughts of Vio and Miles stayed his tongue, then thoughts of the Fool kept it held. And when it came down to it, what were psionics, really? It sure sounded like magic to him.

Instead, he just shook his head. “No. It just uses a regular power cell to store energy you siphon off a spacecraft’s propulsion drive.”

She gave him a blank look. “To do what? If that’s not magic, what’s it firing?”

“Oh! Light. It, uh, it concentrates the… And… Ionizes? Ionizes something?”

The blank look continued.

“Look, I don’t really know the details. I just fire it. I could take it apart and fix it and put it back together with my eyes closed, but I don’t really know what all the various bits, you know, do. Not really the physics type.”

Tor might have been able to chime in at this point, but as soon as Huebert had said “spacecraft”, his mind had wandered back to planning a dry sauna. It was such a good idea! Why hadn’t someone else had it yet? What hadn’t everyone ever had it yet?

“Well, you don’t really look it.” She turned back to her assembled party. “I’d love to hear more about what you do know about that thing, but we’re going to have to walk and talk. Time’s of the essence here, like I said.”

She began to address the group itself “Now, I know you all saw how big this place is from outside, and I know you know that we can’t afford to waste a second in stopping Midday. I hate to say this, but we’re going to have to split up, and I want–“

She was interrupted by the hermit bursting out of his shack with no fanfare, waving an ancient-looking parchment and babbling.

“Wigocher flarpan farya richeer!”

Alex turned to Baghim. “What’s he going on about?”

“Ah, I think he means he has a map.”

“A map… of what? Of Caelo Ruinam?”

The cleric patiently translated, then nodded. “Yes, of Caelo Ruinam. It’s mostly the dungeons, but there’s a pretty good floorplan of the upper levels too.”

“We already have a map.”

“He says… He says this one’s better. It was actually made by the builders way back when, not just pieced together from rumors and legends and fragments.”

“And why,” she said slowly with a dangerous edge to her voice, “Didn’t he mention that we had a reliable map of the place we were going to storm before we docked?”

“He… He says he wasn’t sure which ancient flying doom citadel we were talking about until we got here.” Baghim’s simple face creased in slight confusion. “I think he’s joking?”

Alex pinched the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, deciding not to press the issue further. She simply took the map and spread it out against a nearby wall.

“Alright. Setting aside why it took us this long to hear about it, and why he has the map in the first place, this is still going to be a huge help. Obviously it doesn’t have a big star on it saying “Evil Overlord” anywhere, but we can still make a few guesses as to where she might have ended up.” She paused. “Except I can’t read any of this. Baghim?”

He hurried over and the pair of them set to making a few notes on what looked like important places. “It’ll save us a lot of time, but I think we’d still better split up to cover more ground. Once a group finds her nest, get on a whisperstone and let the rest of us know. We all know we can’t take her on alone, so… Just don’t do anything stupid.”

She turned back to Huebert. “You still coming with us? We could use someone that could provide suppression like that.”

He looked over his shoulder and thought back to his conversation with TinTen, then shrugged. If it was all that important, destiny or whatever would bring them back together.

“Eh. Not like I’ve got anywhere more important to be right now.”


“Hey, I can’t let you in there!”

Ah. Well, it would have been too much to hope for everything to go perfectly.

“Have urgent message for superiors. Cannot be delayed.”

“That’s great, but I’m going to have to see your credentials.”

TinTen drew himself up to as close to tiptentacle ashe could without overbalancing. “Do not have time for insubordinate underlings!”

The unlucky door guard rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but it doesn’t take long to–“

“Takes even less time to replace impudent grunt!” The Meipi whirled on the man, drawing a weapon and pressing it against his perspiring forehead, staring down everyone who had stopped what they were doing to watch the spectacle. “Who wants field promotion? Better pay, increased benefits, must be willing to take orders and not prevent superiors from doing own jobs. New positions opening in five, four, three…”

It seemed no-one did. This was all fairly par for the course for some of Midday’s more monstrous and megalomaniacal operatives anyway, especially if he was about to deliver some bad news to her Ladyship; at that point, they usually just wanted everyone else to match the stylish new exit wound they were about to be sporting. Slowly and overtly nonthreateningly, the soldier reached for and pressed a button, and his door slid open.

“Should kill you anyway.” TinTen muttered, holstering the pistol. “Be grateful.”

He swept through, his coat flapping behind him and the door closing with a dramatic thud. He kept sweeping and glaring right up until her turned a corner into a corridor he felt pretty sure was empty, then leaned against the wall, extremities throbbing as his hearts pounded. It had been… He didn’t even know how long it had been since the last time he’d had to bluff like that. And the last time he’d only come out the other side of it because Huebert had been there to stop things from getting very lethal very quickly when he’d slipped up.

He was just… He was just so tired of constantly fearing for his life. Moving from one tyrant to another, always fighting a war against someone. That said, at least the Duchess hadn’t had unparalleled control over space and time. He didn’t know how much longer he could do this. Didn’t know how much longer he could keep pretending not to be terrified every time he had a weapon trained on him. He just wanted to go back to his planet and live out the rest of his days peacefully perfecting sonic weapons that would tear organisms apart from the inside out without having to worry about civil wars and guerilla campaigns and battles to the death.

Ultimately, though, that desire just strengthened his resolve. Kerak was dead; TinTen had seen the little savage atomized with his own eyes. With Scofflaw eliminated, there would be absolutely no reason left for the survivors to be in conflict: he and Dr. Nyoka and perhaps Tor could pool their knowledge and expertise, and between them they would be able to escape or overthrow the Fool. Then, there was a stretch of jungle with his name on it back home and all the large game he could ever hope to test his creations on. The subsector could just fight its own wars without him.

He straightened up – as much as he could ever be said to be straightened – and continued in the general direction of Lady Midday’s chambers, although he certainly didn’t know that’s what his goal was. Another person might have been put off or worried by the bodies that littered the path ahead of him; TinTen merely took it as a sign that he was meant to get where he was going. For all he knew, Scofflaw had attacked the guards himself, and it was just more evidence that this was where he needed to be.

Of course, the fact that the majority of them had survived their head wounds made that seem unlikely.


Sir Dokuromets rubbed his inhumanly broad chin with one shovellike hand.
“A flighty one, this friend of yours. Always running off somewhere. Do you truly believe he will be able to fight your Fool when the time comes, Calidad?”

“She. Tengeri is a wo- is a female,” corrected the cuboid, stalling for time before eventually simply lapsing into silence. “I believe… I believe that she’ll do what she thinks is right, when the time comes. She always has.”

Of course, it’s easy to trust someone when you’ve known them your whole life, even if your whole life has been measurable in hours. Velobo, hesitant as he was, was probably more certain about her than she was herself.

“Indeed? Then for your sake, I hope she simply hides her warrior’s spirit well. Or finds a new one to replace it!”

He guffawed appreciatively at his own ostensible joke, joined cacklingly by Tykidu. The birdman eventually piped up with “She could never have half the spirit of the warrior that Dorky has!”

Dokuromets sighed. “Yes, thank you, Tykidu.”

Somewhat put off, he ruffled his feathers and continued. “No, I mean… Maybe it would be better if Dorky were the one to take him on! With the Gauntlet of Genko and a god-killing weapon, nobody could stop him!”

the mountain of muscle rumbled contemplatively. “Perhaps I could finally face a foe worthy of my great skills. Worthy of the power of The Gauntlet of Genko!”

Without pause, he began striding off, his smaller companions rushing to keep up. “But that is a question for another time! First, there are more pressing matters to attend to, then we can discuss this Fool and his folly. With the Gauntlet at my side, and activated thanks to my dear friend Calidad, Lady Midday will stand no chance!”

It occurred to Velobo at this point that he had no idea where any of them were heading.“How are we going to find her?”

“Ha! Sir Dokuromets has the heart of a warrior, and it will never lead him astray!”

Tykidu chimed in, “There’s Gimeri’s telepathy.”

Dokuromets scowled. “Yes, there is that too.”

The octohealer proudly flicked her flower with a tentacletip. “Ja, ees very handy. I can map places around us without having to see them first, and I can find people if I know who I’m looking for.”

“Between my heart, Gimeri’s mind, and Tykidu’s wings, there is no place we cannot go, and faster than any others!”

“Would you like me to lock onto Lady Midday?”

The knight broke his stride for just a moment, but recovered admirably. “No. First, there is someone else we must see.”

Tykidu’s face fell as much as a beak could. “But… But why, Dorky? You already have the Gauntlet, you don’t need to do what Greenman wants. We should just–“

“Silence! Is Sir Dokuromets the leader of this band or isn’t he?”

Tykidu looked abashedly down, scuffing his claws on the floor. “You are.”

“Then we will do as I say! There are… Considerations that have nothing to do with the Greenman’s sniveling words that we must see to. Gimeri!”


“Lock on to Alex.”


As Lady Midday roughly tightened the last strap on a garment that could probably most accurately be described as a singlet, she finally felt less exposed.

Which was utterly absurd, of course, since the bathrobe had covered significantly more of her than any of her outfits did; as fond as she was of white leather, she wasn’t fond of very much of it at once. She ran one wickedly-sharp fingernail up the side of her stiletto heel and smiled. It was good to be comfortable again.

Nearby, Jetsam was just beginning to regain consciousness, his eagley eyes cracking open and glaring hatefully around. The first thing he became aware of was the godawful splitting headache that threatened to completely overtake conscious thought; the second thing he became aware of was the smugly bored looking woman sitting on the remains of her bed; the third thing he became aware of was the desire to kill everyone, ever. Forever. Son of a bitch. Fortunately, the second and third things were easily reconciled, and might even go a long way towards distracting him from or even fixing the first thing. Unfortunately, he was so busy noticing those first three things that he completely missed the odd weight around his neck and shoulders. Without a second thought, he pounced, snarling and dripping acid from his beak.

To her credit, Lady Midday didn’t flinch, or even react at all to the dracodactyl’s leap; it was probably for the best, since it looked like one stray gasp would either leave her with a broken rib or one fewer exotic corset in her wardrobe. She simply sat impassively, projecting the air of put-upon arrogance she had long since perfected and waited for Jetsam to strike. He never did.

As soon as he got within claws distance of the sorceress, he found his limbs pinned to the floor, his momentum stopped, and his homicidal impulses effectively shackled. There was a bolt of pain through the runed collar he hadn’t known he’d been wearing and the distinct impression of self-satisfied laughter at the back of his mind.

“Ah, good,” Midday purred. “You’re awake. I have a task for you.”

Jetsam fully intended to make his response a glob of lethal spit to the face, but at the last moment he felt his neck wrenched aside and the ball of acid sizzled harmlessly on the floor.

“Stop damaging my bedchamber, it’s been destroyed enough already. That’s an order, by the way.”

The dragon growled. “Lady, you’ve got about five seconds before–“

“That’s enough.”

Despite not having been nearly enough, Jetsam found that it was.

“If you stop resisting, this will be easier for you. If you keep resisting, it will be more fun for me. That’s entirely up to you.”

“Entirely up yo–“

“Be silent until I dismiss you.”

He lapsed into silence and settled into trying to turn hateful glares into literal murder weapons, a skill he had thus far failed to master across a multitude of lifetimes and bodies.

“There are a number of intruders in my new fortress. Chief among them is a group of heroes bent on taking down the fortress and killing me. Obviously, I can’t have this happening. You are, to the best of your abilities and without any stalling or distractions, to find these heroes and dispose of them. Ensure that the girl, their leader, is killed.” Because she didn’t get where she was by being stupid, she added “Keep casualties among my troops and damage to Caelo Ruinam itself to a minimum.”

The dracodactyl just sat sullenly in front of her.

“What, are you waiting for a picture? This isn’t a complicated job. You’ll know when you see someone who’s not with me, and the collar will make sure there’s no self-deception or ‘mistakes’.” She gestured languidly at the door. “Go.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Jetsam lumbered directly away from the door, picked up speed, and shouldered his way through the wall; his wings caught the open air and he soared away, circling back around Ruinam’s massive exterior while screeching as much in bestial instinct as homicidal frustration.

“An interesting definition of minimum.” The wind from the newest fashionable wall-hole to add to her collection whipped Lady Midday’s hair around for a few seconds before a stone shutter slammed shut and sealed the room again. It didn’t really bother her: the room was just another room; even the fortress itself was just a means to an end which she could replace with a dozen other means at a whim. What was more noteworthy and the cause of the grin creeping across her perfect if recently-butt-marred features was the anticipation of watching her new pet tear apart the idiots that had been a thorn in her side for entirely too long. If the real heroes had survived the Sunstroke attack – a possibility she suspected as much as she relished – then she’d be able to scry on the collar at a moment’s notice and watch their demise in gory detail. If not, well, there was still plenty of fun to be had watching a full-grown dragon go to town on a pompous buffoon and his menagerie of sycophants.

To say nothing of seeing the dracodactyl endlessly prowling her corridors, magically compelled to complete a literally impossible task. Doubtlessly terrorizing her troops in the process. And becoming increasingly furious and insane as time went on.

Lady Midday might have wiggled her toes with glee if they hadn’t been so thoroughly encased in an inordinate amount of boot. Life was good.


O’Keele had taken Tock and Gareth the mage to explore in the direction of the Flux Core and Grand Library, while Alex had headed off with Baghim and Tor to investigate the various royal chambers; Huebert was tagging along with the latter group, Alex peppering him the whole way with intrigued questions about his various weapons.

As they stood at a crossroads, Baghim referencing the map and trying to figure out exactly where they were, she turned one of Huebert’s sidearms over and over in her hands.

“And it doesn’t even explode if someone hits it with a counterspell?”

He shrugged. “Probably not. I mean, I can’t see why it would. ‘Sjust energy.” He looked up at one of the dim bulbs that lit the corridor. What if magic was just energy too? “What about those? Would they?”

Alex glanced in his direction before turning back to the gun. “Hmm? No, not even if they were powered by a spell. Electricity’s not magic.”

“Oh. Then, yeah, no. I don’t think so.”

It was amazing. Most of her world’s inventors had never really seen the point of not using magic alongside more mundane forces; after all, everything worked better with a little enchantment, so why not? But all Alex could think of was a future where every conflict didn’t boil down to who was or had the biggest, baddest wizard. One where nobody ever accidentally tore open dimensional rifts full of eldritch things that hated all life just because it was easier to power things with the elemental plane of fire than nuclear fission. A world that would never have bred a Lady Midday.

As Baghim pointed and the group continued, Alex had in her mind already defeated the sorceress and was leading people towards a time nobody had to fear her kind again. An age of reason and an end to power-hungry occultists. A place where she could pace across the entirety of her fars and forest and back without once encountering a mutated slime thing or malignant goblin shaman. It was all so perfect.

She was snapped rudely from her reverie by a booming voice from across the large room they’d just entered.

“Hail, adventurers!”

“Oh, sweet Lyna’s taint.” Alex completely missed Baghim’s affront at the casual blasphemy. “You have got to be kidding me!”

“Fear not, for Sir Dokuromets does not seek to challenge you again! Instead, he bears an offer for you and your followers.”

“Oh, yeah, no, you’re in a great position to be bargaining after the, what, eight times we’ve kicked your ass above your shoulders? Nine?” She turned to Huebert. “Do me a favor and drop this nincompoop for me so we can actually get a move on.”

“That seems a little… I mean, he’s not even doing anything.”

“Every minute he and his clowns delay us is another minute closer Midday gets to wherever she’s taking this place.” Her eyes were practically bugging out at this point; farming didn’t really do much to prepare anyone to have the fate of the world on their shoulders. “Do you know how many people live in Triple City alone?”

“Well, uh, no.” Huebert grinned in spite of himself. “Is it three?”


She began stomping across the floor, eyes not moving from the door at the far end.

“Fine, whatever, fine. If you guys don’t want to fight, great. We can all use the rest. It’s got to be embarrassing for you at this point, anyway.”

She was only a few yards from drawing level with Dokuromets and the other two. And a third thing? A cube thing? Whatever, it didn’t matter. Her own party made to follow.

“But I do not have time for you, or your offer, or whatever stupid thing you think you’re planning.”

“Maybe you should just hear him out first, ja?”


As Alex brushed past the huge man, his hand snaked out and grabbed her by the wrist. She glared at him, face set with palpable disgust and hatred.
“Please, wait. I have the Gauntlet of Genko now, and…”

“Oh my goodness, that is so great, I can not say how happy I am for you, get your fucking hands off me you apetroll.”

“Its power is beyond what even I might have hoped, and with it, Sir Dokuromets has gone from just being the strongest to achieving unimaginable superiority over all mortals!”

“If you say your name like that one more time, I will personally hire the most powerful witch in the Smokeveil Mountains to curse it so that anyone who so much as thinks about you vomits snakes. Let. Go. Of. Me.”

By this point, the knight was visibly sweating.
“And with it in my grasp I was thinking I could allow you to join–“ Alex’s nostrils flared and he hurriedly changed tack. “That is, I was hoping we could join you, and… Defeat the Lady together?”

“I don’t care,” Alex hissed, barely audible, “How many stupid accessories you strap onto your greasy self. I would rather ally myself with a rotting banshee than spend five minutes with a musclebound moron who can even screw up something as simple as opening a floodgate. I would rather you go to Midday right now and tell her exactly where we are, what we’re doing, and everything I’m allergic to than try to fight her with you around. Just… Just suck swamp and die.”

Tykidu, who had been sulking since they had begun tracking Alex, looked like he was about to burst into tears.
“You can’t talk to Dorky like that!”

Alex aimed a kick at the little harpy. “Oh, get a life, you feathery little cretin.”

She pulled herself out of Dokuromets’s increasingly slack grip. “In case it wasn’t clear. I reject. Your offer.”

Beckoning to her companions, at least one of whom was still reeling at her frankly uncharacteristic tirade, she stalked off. Behind her, Gimeri was desperately trying to comfort Tykidu, who was frantically clinging to his idol’s leg; Dokuromets himself was the picture of defeat, six sets of knuckles practically dragging on the ground.

As Alex opened the door, he muttered
“I love you.”


TinTen stopped. Something gave him a good feeling about this room. Who could say what it was? An omen? Destiny? Squids’ intuition?

It was probably the obvious signs of a struggle, actually, but that was barely mystical at all.

Without hesitation, he slipped in, honestly expecting to run smack into Scofflaw then and there.

Instead, it was Lady Midday who looked up at him from her pre-deceased predecessor’s desk. How did people just keep wandering into her quarters? New Ray and his attackers was one thing, but then a wandering sea serpent and now this tentacle thing? There were going to be some changes in her guard if this was becoming a regular occurrence.

That said, her Science Masochist had just suffered a severe attack of dermatological acidosis, so she was in the market for a new head button-pusher. Between the lab dress, the goggles, and the unsettling appearance, this one looked like a good enough candidate, although she’d probably need to change the title if she was going to start going through them like maintenance staff. Chief Researcher Pro Tem? Disposable engineer? She shook her head and blinked; neither of those were any good, and it had nothing to do with the situation at hand anyway.

TinTen for his part was rather nonplussed. This didn’t seem anything like anything he might have predicted. Since Midday’s floor had already patched itself back together, he had no way of knowing that for the second time in under an hour he was standing only meters away from his goal; he really had no way to proceed. Such a completely unexpected situation had really swept the wind out of his sails, and he just stood staring around the room and blinking.

It wasn’t long before Lady Midday’s usual demeanor reasserted itself. “What? This had damn well better be important.” She didn’t even bother gesturing at all the inconsequentialities on the desk by way of explanation; her time was implicitly more valuable than anyone else’s could ever be.

“Uh… Appear to have… Lost way.” He fumbled with his datapad. “Interruption unintended. Apologies.”

Perhaps not Science Masochist material, then. That actually managed to make her even angrier; the dracodactyl had been a threat and a treat, and the worm was at least interesting. The fact that some idiot technician had just managed to blunder into her private quarters was just insulting. She crossed the room in three strides and lifted the shocked scientist up by his collar. He was astonishingly light.

“You have ten seconds to demonstrate to me why I shouldn’t incinerate you right now.”

One tentacle fumbled for his holstered pistol, but she slapped it away.

“Now it’s five.”


Alex rounded on Dokuromets, slowly and as if someone else had simply grabbed her head and started turning; her face was a rictus of shock and nausea. After silently staring at him for several seconds while he stared at his feet, she spat “You disgust me.”

She pressed the door’s switch again, not bothering to look back. “Don’t even think of following us.”

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to go!” He finally bellowed, grabbing his head and face with four hands and pummeling a nearby statue with a free one. “It’s not right! I’m the strongest! What more could you want?”

She didn’t respond.

“No! NO!” With a wordless howl of rage and grief, he drew his staff with his Gauntleted hand. Baghim’s hands flew to his face while Huebert’s dove for his rifle, but it was too late; nobody was faster than Sir Dokuromets! He swung with all his might and all his pain at the base of her skull and as the sickening crack echoed through Caelo Ruinam, time seemed to freeze on the tableau of faces left in its wake.

Gimeri’s rubbery features were resolving into fear and betrayal, while Tykidu’s beady eyes registered only abject horror; Baghim was the very picture of loss and hopelessness, matched in intensity only by the way Velobo was staring up at Dokuromets’s demonically-furious mask; even Tor, who had only known anyone here briefly and impersonally, felt a great sadness pushing its way through the fog and onto his face, while Huebert’s confusion was quickly turning to righteous rage at anyone who would dare strike a defenseless woman. The girl’s own face had barely had an instant to slacken into mild surprise before her neck had broken.

Alexandra fon Reinhau, chosen one of humanity and savior of destiny, was dead.

Re: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
Originally posted on MSPA by Lord Paradise.

Lady Midday was not precisely an omniscient or an oracular figure—if she were, she might have noticed the inevitability of her own defeat and demise, programmed into the fabric of her universe—but one doesn’t get into her position without at least a degree of affinity with causality, a twinkle in the eye suggesting a capacity to see beyond one’s immediate surroundings. This sixth sense, though apparently no good for catching people sneaking into her bedroom, attuned her to a rapid confluence of portentous events.

Event the First:

The heat from the Flux Core was beginning to singe the the pages of the Caelo Ruinam Operator’s Manual as Gareth laid it to the ground in front of him, reading by the bubbling light of the fortress’ power source. Gareth’s hair, for that matter, was also beginning to let off a bit of smoke. Tock, noticing the environmental danger to his teammate, stepped in front of the mana-active core, absorbing the emissions through his breastplate and releasing them from his ear in a cloud of steam. O’Keele kept to the rafters, bowstring drawn tight.

It was a simple spell to repair the pages of the Operator’s Manual, which had been shredded by a paranoid librarian and scattered all over the Grand Library. The spells contained within the tome, however, were more obtuse. Gareth looked over the runes three times and uncertainly began the chant that he thought would shut off the Core. “Caelus entirini quequiquuquolluque forty-nine nungol f∆ssø rui—”

Something large and feathery and acidic and extremely pissed-off burst into the control center and shrieked bloody murder. Gareth swallowed the spell in his throat, hacking up a green glob of mana phlegm that sprouted legs and began begging for death in the voice of an infant. O’Keele loosed his bow. The arrow glanced off the dracodactyl’s skull, coming just an inch wide of right-between-the-eyes and denying the battle a speedy resolution. Tock whirled around and transferred the thaumathermal energy he was absorbing into his fist, winding up for his signature right hook.

Jetsam landed on the floor in front of Gareth, surveying his situation. He still hadn’t quite pushed this body to its limit, he felt. Now, he would probably need to.

The traveler charged. Battle was joined.

Event the Second:

Nearly anybody with a soul can tell a dead body from a live one just by looking at it. For Baghim, however, the moment of Alex’s death was something beyond that. Her body—and, more to the point, her intrinsic self—had been his canvas for the entire time they’d been journeying together. He’d always been there to strengthen her and fix her up whenever she needed him, and she’d protected and supported him in turn. The bond they shared was a thing of parts—he was her confessor, her doctor, her therapist, her friend, and, most intimately of all, he was her personal magician. When her soul left her body he could see it as easily as he could hear the snap of her neck breaking and Sir Dorukomets muttering
”No, no, no, no, no, no” while cradling her body. When she died all his fingers went numb and all the Gods went silent.

Still, there were protocols to be observed in this situation. And Baghim was a Cleric, capital-C, liaison between the sublime and the grotesque, envoy of the heavens to the battlefield. Shaking, he raised his staff.

A sphere of radiant light appeared around Alex’s body, pushing Sir Dorukomets away. Alex floated into the air, and her chainmail-and-leather armor faded away, replaced by a long white dress accented in green runes. Baghim tilted his staff downward, and the body drifted to the floor and through it, her passage marked only by a faintly radiant rune marking the ground.
The consecration complete, the cleric readied for battle. Runes flickered in the air around Huebert and Tor like lightning, bolstering their armor, raising their heart rates, enhancing their weaponry, and curing them of all negative status conditions.

In Tor’s case, this instantly dispelled the lingering influence of the kalamritul. Everything snapped into focus. Memories of his subjugation and humiliation in the previous round came flooding back to him. He experienced a surge of anger and irritation that he struggled to suppress until the present tensions resolved themselves.

Baghim made eye contact with the octopus as she took up her own chanting and gesturing, harmonizing with him, setting the stage for the inevitable combat. Before Tor began rifling through the item bag again, before Huebert fired his rifle at Dorukomets, before Tykidu took to the air and dove, the cleric and Gimeri had already realized the battle in words and songs, in dead languages, undead languages, stillborn languages and languages that never existed at all. The conflict became material in the form of a story, one with larger-than-life characters, one in which actions and consequences play out in metaphorical rather than literal terms, one in which the good guys always win. The stories clung to the walls and to the flesh of the combatants and to the space between the shafts of light streaming in from the skylight, and they spoke to anyone who would listen.

The stories told that this was the day when Alexandra fro Reinhau died.

The stories told that this would be the day when Sir Dorukomets would wield the Gauntlet of Genko.

The stories told of bloodshed.

Tor grabbed a sharp purple crystal out of the bag and jabbed it under Tykidu’s wing as the bird’s beak slashed him across the shoulder. Something crackled, space bent in a way it oughtn’t have, and Tykidu crashed into the floor, bent and broken. Baghim and Gimeri continued to whisper at each other from opposite sides of the room, like nostalgic ex-lovers. Huebert fired his rifle at Dorukomets. Dorukomets held out his hand.

The plasma bolt disappeared into the Gauntlet of Genko. Sir Dorukomets’ arm began to glow as the legendary weapon sprung to life. The story in the air grew frantic, wavering between legend and cautionary tale and romance and tragedy.

Event the Third!

Between the recent hustle of barked orders and mysterious newcomers, plus the knowledge that they were standing on top of a swiftly-recharging solar-powered apocalypse weapon, everybody could tell instinctively that battle was on the horizon. The overeager, sex-starved members of Lady Midday’s honor guard were making sure to prepare for this endeavor as conspicuously as possible, attempting to out-do each other in the realm of loyalty and professionalism. Some meditated, hyperventilated, flexed, demonstrated their ability to break a sweat at will. Others cleaned their weapons, prepared emergency ritual scrolls, had themselves fitted for mechs. In the public showers the men lathered themselves in oils and moisturizers; at the mess hall they drank protein shakes and injected themselves with designer stimulants; at the sink they applied war paint and tasteful mascara. One sat at a table and stuck dozens of pins into his arm, trying and failing to get someone to make eye contact with him or ask what he was doing. They sat on their beds reading bank statements, pretending that they were letters from old sweethearts. They hugged each other, breathing heavily, rubbing the muscles on each other’s backs as though searching for the buttons that would turn on the profound camaraderie.

All of the honor guard estimated inwardly that about fifty percent of them were going to die. None of them assumed that they themselves would be among that number. Each of them was gearing themselves up for a self-conscious display of survivor’s guilt and a glut of rewards, honors and favors from Lady Midday. This accounted for the awkwardness in their interactions. Among the rank-and-file, where everyone was certain that they were personally going to be murdered, there was not so much pretense. They ate their food and shouldered their guns and made small talk and waited for the order. The conversations among these soldiers all went the same way: they would ask where each other was from, trying to place each other’s accents, their fashions; they would fumble about attempting to understand the cultures of each other’s home nations, wondering at the cosmopolitan nature of the sky-fortress. Many of these soldiers had never left their hometowns before signing up for Midday’s revolutionary army, lured less by promises of riches and glory than by the desire to get out, to get away from parents and stepparents and older brothers and ex-girlfriends, to see the world, to get away from their own lives. They were now beginning to realize that the world was full of places full of people who wanted to leave, and that this fundamental principle of hometown repulsion was the energy that had always fueled the engines of war. There was nothing special about any of them except that a lucky few might end up with a window seat in the mass grave.

Among the other workers—the medics, the secretaries, the drivers, the technicians, the construction and demolition crews, the priests, the errand boys and mail wenches, the chefs and repairmen and quality control specialists—death was an insipid presence, something that had been breathing on the back of their necks and was now moaning quietly while giving them a backrub. At some point their job offers had become jobs, their jobs had become lives, their lives had become sources of guilt and fear and torment. This was not their war, but they were a part of it now. Their response was to pretend this was like every other day, getting the work done, talking about sports teams and dissertations, pretending to ignore the sensation of Death beginning to sensually nibble on their earlobes.

The green scofflaw, being largely incapable of empathy, assumed that the same message applied equally to all of these groups. He routed it through intercoms, radios, chatrooms and word of mouth, doing his best to make sure it stopped just short of Lady Midday’s chambers:

”Attention, servants of Lady Midday: This is Greenman, here to inform you that your mistress is no longer capable of compensating you for your services. You will find that your payscrolls have bounced. I repeat: your payscrolls are void. The financial contract holding together your obligation towards Lady Midday is at an end.

Owing to this circumstance, I strongly suggest that you appropriate your small arms, artillery, vehicles, and other assorted instruments of martial power and turn them against Lady Midday. Appropriate this fortress to do with as you see fit, free of her influence. I can promise a five hundred thousand gilderupee reward to anyone who can prove that she is dead. Thank you for listening. Once more, this is Greenman, over and out.”

By the time the message concluded, hundreds of soldiers and employees were already pulling out their payscrolls in a panic and scribbling in the “X” that completed the “Cash” rune on the dotted line. One by one, the payscrolls reached out mystically to a computer bank that had been rendered incapable of lending any credit, and burst unceremoniously into flame, occasionally leaving behind chunks of pyrite or charcoal in place of the precious coins they were meant to deposit.

Unrest set in. Some soldiers threw down their guns, others raised them up. Some mechs were activated, others were shut off. The illusion of a well-oiled machine, of a higher purpose, of an inevitable death was shattered. Those who chose to remain loyal to their lady attempted to retain order, some through reason, others through violence. The violence begot violence and the reason largely begot violence. Chaos descended upon Ruinam.

Lady Midday, suffering a splitting migraine of cosmic narrative alignment, sighed and dropped the cephalopod to the ground with a plish. “Very well,” she said.

TinTen was surprised and puzzled by this act of mercy on the strange woman’s part. Perhaps her show of violence had been merely another facet of her bravado, like her ostentatious outfit. Perhaps she could actually be an ally. He rose carefully to his feet, recognizing her obvious power. “Apologize for rude introduction. Name is TinTen Naamxe.” A few lies rolled around in his head, but he suspected dishonesty would only make things worse here. “Seeking personal vendetta against man somewhere on this station.”

“Hmm. Hold that thought.” Midday looked over to the door and, as if on cue, heard a knock. “Come in!” she called out in a mockingly singsong voice, looking at TinTen and rolling her eyes.

A shirtless and heavily tattooed member of the Honor Guard burst forth into the room. “My lady!” he cried, bending to one knee. “There’s been a situation. Do me the honor of allowing me to escort you to safety.”

“The honor would be mine, good soldier,” replied the witch, supplicant, placing a single fingertip under the man’s chin and lifting his head up to meet her gaze. “There’s no need to stand on formality here,” she whispered.

The soldier shuddered. “Of... of course not, my lady,” he stammered.

Looking into Lady Midday’s eyes was dizzying, like standing at the edge of a cliff and looking down. He held eye contact for five seconds, then blinked, at which point his eyes lowered briefly to her breasts, then to his sidearm. His fingertips twitched in the direction of his holster.

Midday drove her fingernail through his jugular so hard that both of his eyes popped out. “Idiot,” she spat, turning back to TinTen. “I seem to have a revolution on my hands,” she told him. “Help me get out of this place and I will give you anything you desire.”

TinTen considered this. Given the information he knew, if this woman held a position of power in this fortress she was likely allied with some tyrannical or otherwise evil force. To aid her would be to stand in the way of justice, impose his own ends to the detriment of this world.

However, last time he had made a moral stand based on the politics of one of the Fool’s battlefields, it had set him up for exploitation. Plus, that world had proven only to be a simulation, peopled by simplistic constructs, devoid of any real life. Conscience aside, his factoring in the greater good for each of these worlds was assuredly a weakness both in the Fool’s battle and his personal war on Scofflaw. In any case, if the current revolt was enough to make this “Lady” fear for her safety, then she likely didn’t have enough power to continue in whatever sins would make her deserve to die in the first place.

“Define ‘anything,’” he requested.

* * * * *

Velobo stood transfixed as an enraged Sir Dorukomets balled a fist, the power of the Gauntlet holding Huebert in place. Being a being of hard edges, he was not good at solving moral conundrums. On the one hand, Sir Dorukomets was his ally, a creature of Good, a hero among his people. On the other hand, he had killed Alex, and even if he hadn’t meant to, he had been acting angry and irrational. And now, clearly, nobody seemed interested in doing anything to calm the situation down and continue on their shared mission.

Also complicating that issue was that the hard-headed courage of the Plazmuth was being sorely tempted in the face of the power of the Gauntlet, which had now summoned a trio of spectral hands, each of which was restraining one of Dorukomets’ opponents. “Everyone stop,” he mumbled.

No one heard. The Gauntlet of Genko was making a noise somewhere between a mechanical buzz and an opera. Tor was cursing in an unrecognizable language. Gimeri tended to Tykidu. Dorukomets tightened his grip on Tor, Huebert, and Baghim. Something on the cleric’s body made a popping sound that made Velobo wince.

“I said cut this out!” the Plazmuth repeated.

Dorukomets turned towards his new ally.
”Why should I?” he demanded, voice quivering. ”Am I not the master of the Gauntlet of Genko? Am I not the strongest?” The knight loomed over Velobo menacingly. ”Have these interlopers not invoked my ire time and time again, when I only wanted...” He clutched four of his arms to his chestplate and one to his helmet, the hand holding the Gauntlet of Genko thrust out to one side. ”There is always glory in combat,” he concluded.

Velobo tried to meet the knight’s eyes, hidden as they were under his visor. “There’s no ‘glory’ in being a... a bully,” he decided. “I’m sorry that you... what happened to that girl, but don’t you have, you know, bad guys to fight?”

Dorukomets scowled.

* * * * *

”The man you’re describing is dead,” said Midday flatly.

Someone kicked at the door. The barricade—Midday’s bedframe, her wardrobe, and a shimmering magical seal—held. “Lying,” snapped TinTen.

“I watched him die not an hour ago.”

“Wrong, then. Would know if Scofflaw were dead.”

Midday considered this. “If he faked his death somehow and were acting against me, that might explain this... dissent.” There was another kick on the door, followed by a gunshot and a low moan. The sound of a corpse hitting the door and then sliding slowly to the ground. Midday licked her lips. “I never should have hired him.”

“Scofflaw’s modus operandi. Infiltrate a system. Betray. Deceive. Undermine. Sow chaos. Destroy, rebuild, subjugate. Works like a cancer. Must be extracted.”

“Hmm.” Midday looked into the Meipi’s goggles, searching for an ulterior motive. TinTen felt a trace of magic—despicable word!—float into a corner of his brain and sink its hooks in. Too much exposure to this woman could be dangerous. “If he’s still in the fortress I’ll find him and kill him after I get to safety. That won’t be a problem. If he’s crossed me already, I’ll even enjoy it.”

TinTen asked the question he knew it would be unwise to ask. “Why need me at all? Seem to have sufficient power to fight way through alone.”

“Maybe,” said Midday, smiling. “Don’t worry your hideous squishy head about my plan. I have a plan for you.”

She snapped her finger and the bed and wardrobe floated gently back to their original positions. The lock on the door clicked. TinTen clutched his gun uncertainly.

Re: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
Originally posted on MSPA by Anomaly.

RE: Grand Battle Season 3 Game 1! Signups are open!
Despite its grace and strength and surfeit of ways to kill whatever was bothering him, Jetsam didn't like this body. While the pangolin could stop and think and re-evaluate and do whatever else a pangolin wouldn't (Chaos smiling on such chicanery), the dracodactyl was all animal. Cunning and loyal and savage animal, but slings and bows and white lightning striking the rational spires of its mind all reduced the beast still further. For one thing, animal instinct told Jetsam to go for the first guy who shot him. Midday's collar disagreed, parsing unwillingness to go straight for the mage as a wilful accessory to sabotage, and shot another bolt of pain through the cognizant centre that would've suggested killing Gareth first anyway.

The dracodactyl screamed, lobbing a haphazard acid splatter in nobody's direction. It squirmed under Tock's hook, lashing out and seizing some hopefully-extraneous widget in its jaws.

Jetsam ate steam, which hurt. Distractingly so. Tock followed it up with a faceful of piping-hot fist. By the tin man's good luck, it was the side Ursus forced into confrontation with Midday's bedchamber wall, and the 'dactyl reeled and hissed and was having trouble staying upright.

O'Keele aimed this time for the legs, but that unnatural head snapped round and intercepted the arrow with a bolt of venom. With no time for the heroes to marvel at this, the monster found its feet, sprung with a cat's impunity and seized the archer's ankle. They scrabbled and screeched and tried to gouge each other's eyes out until Tock grabbed the creature by its ankle, wherein it kicked the metal man's arm clean off at the shoulder.

“GARETH,” roared O'Keele, “FINISH THE SPELL!”

O'Keele stabbed Jetsam in the foreclaw and the latter retaliated with a bicycle-kick, braining the ranger with Tock's arm and bringing the trio crashing to the floor. The bird-dragon found its feet first, its acid strike only missing O'Keele because half its legs were busy keeping Tock pinned.

None of this was especially to Gareth's liking. By preference, he'd rather squash spell-gobbets, hell, cough more of them up himself if it was an alternative to this. With few better options, Gareth paged through the book to find his aborted spell. A lucky page opened to a list of directives Ruinam's former inhabitants used in aerial combat, and the mage gave one a crack on the grounds it looked way more pronounceable than the shutdown sequence.

“Caelus lδcerta delphiniums blu...”

Jetsam's attention snapped to Gareth, the magic-infused command smacking directly upon the currently-dominant bestial portion of his borrowed brain. “What did you just-”

The runes on Jetsam's collar flashed a deadly white that shot straight through his retinas and out the other side of his head. He shrieked, recoiled, and as the laughter faded so too did Jetsam's capacity for reason.

The pain was the mage's doing. The mage was on the other side of the room. Between Jetsam and the mage stood an archer with an arrow nocked, and a one-armed tin man.

Arrows would hurt him. The mage already had. Already would. Do it again. Kill him first.

The dracodactyl hissed, and charged, and caught one arrow in its teeth and another in its shoulder and kept running, spat the arrow out, bowled the minnow over and caught it in his jaws before it could hit the ground or shed a glove or ever do him harm again.

Gareth screamed. Jetsam made a noise in his throat, bile and loathing rising and hacked upon the mage's shoulder where his teeth still ground on clavicle. He barely needed to move to dodge O'Keele's arrow – more a lazy curl of the neck what raised the mage's pitch to something histrionic. The dracodactyl spat its catch on the ground, silencing it, and appraised the ranger and the robot.

O'Keele was shaking. Gareth hadn't been - wasn't, he had to correct himself - much older than Alex. That he was a defector from Midday's army was a secret to her. O'Keele suspected Tock knew, though the archer was too good a man to ever ask and find out. It had come down to O'Keele to impart some suitably father-figurely speech when Alex announced the plan to storm Ruinam and the kid nearly bailed on them.

There was dread in O'Keele's heart and a cementing realisation that they shouldn't have separated. He'd said, at the dock, what he'd felt at the time were situationally appropriate goodbyes to Alex. She'd hugged him, thanked him for his realistic take on the situation, scolded him for not having enough faith in the team. They were all ready for this – even Gareth, he'd pull through; she'd kill him if he choked now. He'll be fine because you're looking out for him. We'd all be back together in no time. Not here, but home.

We'll be home soon.

Tock had been making a sound in his throat like a struggling ignition switch. Before he or O'Keele realised it, Tock was running, bellowing, vengeance and vented heat gathering in his remaining arm. Of course he'd known. You didn't let a Earthen into your chassis without figuring out a few things about him, and Tock's mechanistic morals had eventually spat an output in the mage's favour.

Tock leapt. Jetsam ducked easily, craning easily from the prescribed arc of Tock's fist.

Tock leapt right over the dactyl, whirred a prayer to the Forge that Gareth had soldered this up right. His fist went glunk, sprang off the end of his arm, and uncurled at the last minute to clamp upon Jetsam's shoulder.

Someone dimmed the lights. The hand's rapid ticking stopped, Gareth's sigyls cleared for syntax and loaded into the local fabric of reality. A bubble of what looked like plasma forced its way into existence in the narrow space between metal palm and feathered arm. It burst with a musical note, and the dactyl was lit up from within with a roiling, crackling, violet inferno. Jetsam collapsed under the point of impact, a reaction more in line with being hit by a battering ram than a punch. His vision swam and sparked and felt on double-fire like the rest of his body and mind, and if he was screaming Jetsam wasn't aware of the fact. Everything was fading to white, though it was actually Tock spewing a screen of steam to retrieve his companion.

The metal man got as far as realising this'd be difficult with no hands when the shadow appeared. Gareth sobbed.


The bear raised his paws, Inks on the back flickering one to the next like lightning, a dozen different routes to earth themselves upon his hunched shoulders. What little fur he had stood on end, sigyls the colour of fresh ink lighting up down the bear's flank as he raised a foot, and stomped the earth.

The lights went out, the rocket fist powered down, even the Flux Core whined in protest at the rather comprehensive Nullify spell Ursus had launched. Tock froze, still bent over Gareth, then keeled over silently and toppled upon the mage. Part of his jaw landed in Jetsam's field of vision, which mostly consisted of floor, fog, and the ambient glow of the generator. There was the twang of a bowstring, and a growl more annoyed than homicidal. Jetsam felt Ursus approach, and raised his head just fast enough for the bear to pin it down again.

“I have mere minutes, hunter. Do not interrupt.”

The bear gripped a little tighter, then ran a claw up the dracodactyl's neck, drawing blood. Jetsam was too exhausted to do more than flinch, bracing himself for another jolt from the collar. He only received the scratch of bear claw on stone floor, Gareth's ragged breathing a ways off, and the thrum of the Flux Core.

“Dracodactyl blood was the most potent Ink in the last Age, before Ruinam fell.” Ursus continued to sketch, forming concentric semicircles of tight-packed sigyls that ran out from the collar like ripples on a pond. “With it, even her Ladyship's toys can be overruled. The Core reprogrammed. Ruinam to tear apart from itself, cast to the winds as dust.”

The collar began to glow, at first a cold crimson illumination but which quickly graduated to red-hot. Jetsam just felt simultaneously tense and numb, and it was only the numbness that faded out of existence with the collar, replaced with a perfect hovering circle the colour of his blood. The headaches had subsided, and he managed to sit up.

“Did-” Ursus seemed surprised as Jetsam that he managed to get a word out, “did you break-”

“Overruled it. Her Ladyship will receive only images she favours if she scries you. You and Ruinam both are wasted on her. Doubtless like you were on your old masters.” The bear scrutinised his handwriting again, and satisfied, Ursus struggled to his feet.

“Ursus.” O'Keele was practically begging by this point. “Are you betraying Midday?”

“Now kill the ranger,” growled Ursus, already making tracks for Gareth. Jetsam didn't move.

“My punishment if I refuse?”

Ursus laughed, indistinguishable from his growl. “None. Kill the ranger, then help me with the core.” The bear raised his wards against the Flux Core's heat, already using spare droplets of dactyl blood to begin his bastard craft.

The exits slammed closed. Jetsam rose to his feet. He felt ok with this. Not furious, not resigned, not even bloodthirsty or resentful or tense or excited. The removal of Midday's “discipline” from the mental equation balanced things out again, making its absence by contrast so indubitably comparatively ok.

Things would be ok. Behind him came a noise like a beautiful metal skull full of beautiful intricate machinery being crushed under runically augmented foot.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
An eerie quiet closed around Tengeri as she navigated the ancient, twisting passages of Caelo Ruinam. No eight-armed warriors punching things. No magic bears attempting to claw her eyes out. Most importantly, no Scofflaw. She hadn't seen him (other than his incredibly conspicuous corpse) since he'd contacted her in those caves, but on further thought, wasn't it obvious? Of course Scofflaw wasn't dead. Could've been clones. Could've been holograms. Could've been more of that fake bullshit science that somehow worked. Whatever it was, the real Scofflaw was still alive and well (physically, mind you - not mentally). The very thought was sickening.

What did it matter, though? She was going to get them out of there. All of them. Except, hopefully, Scofflaw, but she'd worry about that later. All she had to do was get a "magic" weapon and use it to kill some higher lifeform who fancied himself a god. A "Meta-Dimensional Entity", as the NSC called them. Extremely powerful - to the point where mortals could have no more effect on them than a single bacterium could have on a mortal - but not necessarily invulnerable.

In all honesty, Tengeri had no idea how the second part was going to work. The Fool could just teleport them around or paralyze them at will. How was she going to take him by surprise? Hell, he was probably watching her every move, reading her every thought. She didn't have the resources to do this alone. As far as she could tell, she had only a telekinetic fieldful of people she could get help from.

One: Tor. Even with his expertise, though, Tengeri doubted he had the know-how to distract a semi-omnipotent being for more than a few insignificant fractions of a second.

Two: TinTen. He scarcely seemed more likely than Tor to be able to assist. What was his expertise, anyway... weapons? He'd probably be willing to help, but that was hardly enough without something more substantial.

Three: Velobo. Velobo? Tengeri wondered why she even entertained the idea. Sure, he somehow managed to interface with an ancient gauntlet of unspeakable power which was activating similar technology across the multiverse, but... Did he know how to use any of it? Doubtful.

Four: ScoffNO. Tengeri didn't want to continue with that thought. No matter what Scofflaw was capable of, he was a disgusting bastard who deserved nothing less than death, as he'd demonstrated numerous times. Recent kindness be damned - all he really wanted was to use her for his own ends. She wouldn't entertain the idea any further. Besides, maybe the weapon would create a diversion on its own.

Speaking of which, Tengeri looked up to find herself floating before the false wall once again. Hopefully the merchant wouldn't give her another incredibly dangerous task for a seemingly insignificant item. There wasn't time for that. At any moment, her final hope could be snatched away from her by situations out of her control.

"Just stay alive, dammit," she mumbled as she floated through the non-wall.

"Don't worry, I'm quite alive!" called the smiling face of Lancelot Mortimer Veritas Garland. He eagerly continued, "Have you brought the feather?"

Tengeri glared in silence as the purple-pink feather floated from the containment unit and placed itself on the merchant's counter. She was still pretty pissed about the fact that she'd almost gotten killed for a goddamn feather.

Garland held the feather toward one of the lights mounted in the ceiling, squinting. He eventually placed it in his pocket, apparently satisfied. "Yes, yes, that will do quite nicely. Should add another ten years to my life!" He laughed. Tengeri didn't join him.

"That is sufficient payment, I hope," she eventually posed.

"Well... I suppose I should save some tasks for other shoppers, although business isn't quite what I expected it to be."

"You expected a lot of business on a floating doomsday fortress?"

"It comes with the trade. Anyway!" The merchant clapped his hands. "I think I have just the thing for you."

He promptly kneeled under the counter, which, as Tengeri noted, contained a link to some sort of pocket dimension. Possibly a storehouse, she guessed. Eventually, the merchant emerged, holding in his hand a dirty gold spear, whatever lustre it might've once held long gone. Tengeri stared, unimpressed, as her sensors tried and failed to make sense of the readings from the weapon.

"The Deicide!" Lancelot exclaimed, beaming. "An old favorite of mine. It's served several generations of heroes in their fights against assorted forces of darkness, and now I pass it to you, uh... I don't think I caught your name."

"Tengeri," she curtly replied.

"Tengeri! Most excellent. Not every day a cybernetic Leviathan comes shopping. Now, then, for the love of whatever Gods you're not interested in viciously murdering, do not touch the pointy bit. And, naturally, generations of use hasn't left it in... the best condition. I'd advise against overusing it."

"You think I'm just going to swim around murdering everything in sight?"

"I was hoping," he sighed. "Well, you paid, so here it-"

The merchant was very rudely interrupted by the sound of gunfire. He took cover behind the counter as the various potions carefully arranged on the shelves began to shatter. He cursed under his breath as Tengeri joined him behind cover, blue-green blood leaking into her waterfield.

"Just grazed. Nothing serious," she mumbled, wincing in pain. Garland, meanwhile, took advantage of a momentary pause in the firing to hurl the nearest weapon (in this case, the Deicide itself) through the false wall. A scream of pain echoed for a fraction of a second before it was silenced.

Of course, Lt. Matthias Leblanc hadn't been expecting a god-killing spear to the face. He and his squad had a fairly simple mission. Murder some kind of merchant that had somehow thought that an ancient flying fortress full of patrolling soldiers was a viable business venture, and take whatever legendary weapons he'd brought with him. He had smirked. Maybe he'd even keep a little something for himself. Who would know, right? It'd make a nice bonus on top of his meager payroll.

Even the announcement from this "Greenman" fellow and the subsequent checking of their pay scrolls didn't deter Leblanc and his two squadmates from their goal - hell, it gave them even more incentive to take out the merchant. They would divide all the loot amongst themselves, they decided. That sounded nice. No need to get involved with the revolution they were sure would break out among the other troops.

Anthony Cavallo, the best gunner on the squad, could finally pay for a cleric to heal his ailing mother. His desperation had led him to join Midday, in spite of her complete insanity. The scrawny Nikolajs Koridze, always hopeful for the future, could finally pay for an education in painting. He'd always said that things were gonna change soon. That he'd make a better life for himself. Even Leblanc had never wanted to join Midday. What he wanted was to go off on his own, to see the world, to be one of the heroes told about in legend. But he'd never had the money to get away from his hometown, until Midday's troops gave him an opportunity. All he wanted was fame and fortune.

Instead, he got a glowing spear to the face. Anthony and Nikolajs looked on in horror as Leblanc's entire body collapsed into nothingness, barely able to scream before they were rent into dust and the dust into a mass of unrecognizable particles.

Tengeri hesitated. No gunshots. No noise whatsoever. Slowly she swam from behind the counter, cautiously poking her head through the fake wall. She found no sign of any attackers, save for some scraps of fabric and some twisted bits of metal that might've once been machine guns. No blood, no corpses, no mess - just the Deicide, broken into several pieces, head buried in the wall.

"Shit," Garland muttered as he emerged from the wall. "This, uh... This wasn't supposed to happen."

"Let me guess, that was your last Deicide?"

"Unfortunately so. Could I maybe interest you in something of equal or lesser value?" The merchant struggled and ultimately failed to pull the spearhead out of the wall.

Tengeri thought for a moment. "You did say you could 'enchant' a weapon to have similar properties."

Lancelot sighed, resorting to hitting the spearhead with a large hammer. "You know, I was going to charge you a million more gilderupees for this, but..." He tossed the hammer aside, then carefully reached into the cracked remains of the weapon. "I guess there's no talking you down. Enchanting it is, then."

The merchant carefully drew out a small, glowing orb, apparently made of [analysis failed] and brightly glowing with [critical error]. Without another word he headed back into his slightly-damaged shop, followed by the floating serpent.

"Did you have a weapon in mind?" The merchant motioned toward the rack of variably outlandish weapons on the wall behind him. Giant swords comprised of unrecognizable alloys, crossbows which could fire at several times the speed of sound, a really nice violin... Tengeri had no clue how to use any of them in a way that wouldn't ultimately get her atomized.

HYP-01: ACTIVE flashed Tengeri's mechanical eyes as the tentaclesque manipulator made its way out of her back. The end of the manipulator fashioned into a large spike (designated use: climbing), she laid it on the countertop. "Will this suffice?"

Lancelot studied it contemplatively. "Hmm. Yes, I believe that will be fine. I've never tried this potent an enchantment on cybernetics before, but I doubt there'll be any side-effects."

"You doubt there'll be any side-effects?" Dammit Tengeri, she scolded herself. This is a stupid idea! Are you trying to get killed?

"Oh, I doubt it'll do any harm. Might even make it more potent! Ha!" The portly merchant looked down at the manipulator for a few seconds. "Hmm."

"Hmm?" Yeah, trust this guy. That'll end well.

"You know, it's been a while since I did this kind of enchantment. I could add more reagents than just the Deicide's core, if you happen to have any on hand. Er, lack of hand. Or, maybe, if you have the money..." Lancelot grinned in the manner that only the greedy can.

"I might have something..." Tengeri trailed off. Bad idea, she couldn't stop thinking in the corner of her mind. Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea what are you an idiot. Tengeri ignored herself, producing from her storage unit an oddly-glowing purple fragment of crystal.

"Oho! What's this?"

"It's a... fragment of chaos? I haven't been able to analyze it, but... Maybe it could help catch the Fool off-guard." Tengeri was starting to listen to her doubts about the whole thing. Infusing a weapon connected to her body with unanalyzable chaotic matter? That had to be the stupidest idea she'd ever had! But... the nature of chaos is its unpredictability. The Fool could easily see a god-killing weapon coming at him on its own. Maybe the chaos would throw him off enough for her to strike the fatal blow...

Everything suddenly seemed a whole lot more real to her. She was actually going to take on a god.Could it really be done? Was the merchant's definition of gods very different than her own? It was impossible to tell. But she had to try.

"...Well? Shall we get started, or do you want to keep staring off into space?"

"Um... Yes. I'm ready." Tengeri slammed her eyes shut. She was afraid to watch what could have been the last moments of her life. She winced with each blow of Lancelot's hammer, with each string of incomprehensile syllables he uttered. But then it was over.

"Done!" the merchant announced, wiping the sweat from his brow. Kavali cracked open a couple of eyes. She wasn't dead at all, unless the afterlife was inhabited primarly by sweaty overweight mammalian entrepreneurs.

Tengeri held the manipulator up, shaking it around. Still worked fine, although the metallic surface glowed a gaudy goldish-purple. It didn't even stop her from switching the end to different tools. Analysis of the system, of course, proved inconclusive. She didn't feel any different, so she was ready to call it a success.

"...Will it still vaporize anything it touches?" Tengeri was a bit worried about that. Especially if it extended to retracting the thing into her body.

"Well... it's a weapon enchantment. If it's not in a weaponized form, it should be fine! Of course, I take no liability for other assorted incidents. Best of luck to you, and be careful!"

Tengeri grimaced as she put her new weapon away. She breathed a sigh of relief when every particle in her body failed to explode at the speed of light. "...Thanks. I hope it was worth the trouble."

Suddenly, the entirety of Ruinam shook as if struck by something massive. The lights in the hidden shop flickered.

"What powers this place?" Tengeri asked Lancelot as the fortress leveled out.

"It's powered by... hm. Some sort of flux core, I believe. Fairly standard mana-based power for a fortress like this one." As he explained, the merchant quietly flicked a switch below the counter. Behind him, his personal teleportation device began powering up.

"Right..." Tengeri set her scanner to display power conduits in the walls. With any luck they'd lead her right to the source. "Thanks again," she added, floating off through the false wall. She didn't want to leave. She didn't want to risk getting killed after she'd gone through so much. But, for all she knew, if she didn't act quickly the whole fortress could explode, taking everyone inside with it.

"No problem," he replied with a grin. At the exact same moment, he heard a loud ding from the machine behind him. And so Lancelot Mortimer Veritas Garland waited. There were supposed to be some heroes in the fortress, but they hadn't shown up yet. He'd give them another ten minutes, but that was it. Didn't want to be around when the whole thing inevitably fell from the sky.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
"What point is there in fighting the "bad guys"," Dorukomets rumbled after a few moments, "when the world has obviously already lost?"

"You don't know that–"

"This place is forsaken by time, forsaken by the gods, now even forsaken by love!"

"I don't think–"

"It is only a pity it took me so long to realize it all. Yes, now I see that–"

"Oh, stop it!" Velobo finally snapped uncharacteristically. "You just finished saying there was always glory in combat, now you're making excuses not to fight the only fight that matters. You can't have it both ways!"

What was visible of the knight's face hardened further.
"Calidad, I realize that–"

"No, you don't realize anything! You're just being a… a… being a baby." He took a few moments to breathe deeply and steady himself, relaxing out of what had been an imperceptibly-different stance that he thought was more threatening than his default. Being a knee-high cube makes it hard to tower. "You've done something bad. Really bad. But that doesn't have to completely overshadow all the good things you've done. It can't do that, not unless you give up and let it. Look at this, look at what you're doing to these people. Her friends, my friends. You're a hero, Sir Dorukomets, you can't just become a villain as soon as things don't go your way."

The little cuboid scuttled closer, pausing for emphasis. "A hero has to redeem himself. You have to keep fighting, because even if you've lost there are other people out there who haven't. And they need you. Look at poor Tykidu. What would he do without you? What would all the people down on the ground do if you gave up and let Midday win? Even if this place has been forsaken by time, or forsaken by the gods, or even forsaken by love, you don't have to forsake it. You can't forsake it. You're the strongest. Sometimes you're too strong, and you break things. It's embarrassing. But you can't give up when you break something meaningful to you, because that strength lets you protect so many other things. You have a responsibility. You have the gauntlet. You have to keep fighting."

There was an unpleasantly biological noise from behind. "You have to stop this before you break anyone else."

Dorukomets sighed, scores of fingers bunching and unbunching with anguish. Velobo's little speech had been inelegant, it had been childish and naive, it had even been borderline silly. But it had been true. The knight couldn't face that truth laid out so simply, and couldn't face the hurt earnestness in those beady little red eyes. He couldn't face anything, really, but he definitely couldn't face himself if he let himself destroy everything. The Gauntlet of Genko stopped its piercing wail and settled into a dejected hum; the hands pinning the others vanished, dropping them to the floor. Tor took the opportunity to messily combust, while Huebert mostly just swore and Baghim struggled to breathe. There was silence, save for the crackling of flames and the occasional distant scream or burst of gunfire. Dorukomets eventually broke that, too.

"What do I do?"

Velobo was at a loss. He was, even if he didn't consider himself such, a leader, a tactical genius, an inspirer of men, but right now, he just… didn't know. "We have to fight. Fight the right people. Save everyone."

"But when the witch is defeated – as she doubtless will be!" he added with a small measure of his usual bravado, "what will I do?"

Velobo opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again more slowly. Before he could speak the words he wasn't finding, he was almost-thankfully interrupted by a change. He couldn't place what it was or what it meant, but he wasn't the only one that felt it; every brow in the room furrowed with confusion, every stomach or digestive-equivalent knotted with anxiety, and some subconscious little node within every mind present suddenly wailed with an alarm it hadn't even known it had. No-one knew what was happening or what to do, or even what they were feeling. Nothing was wrong, but everything was. And then the change changed.

In an instant, Gimeri and Baghim locked eyes; both tried to shout something to the effect of 'what have you done', but the latter didn't seem to be able to make much more than thick blood come out of his mouth, and it was immediately clear in any case that neither was responsible. All through the room, and perhaps all through the world, tiny nonexistent cracks were forming. Not in the walls of the fortress, or even in the air that filled it, but in the ideas that kept the whole plane what it was and where it was going and unchangingly static. The stories the clerics had bound themselves and each other with whispered themselves with increasing urgency, insisting this wasn't happening, couldn't happen, would be forestalled, but their actors found no recourse and the inexorable pressure of less-tamed reality pressed against them until they broke. Words and ideas splintered and coruscated through the room, the narratives Baghim and Gimeri had weaponized and perfected and protected and relied on shattering and continuing to shatter and sending shockwaves through every story they were tied to, through every teller that had defined and defied the world through them. Great ponderous threads of plot and moral whipped dangerously through causality, untethered by notion or intent, and scythed through the weakened world. They tore a finally-literal hole at the epicenter of the narrative battle, pulling and prying until a fist-sized, then man-sized, then gate-sized hole was revealed in the middle of the floor.

A vac-suited hand reached through.


Greenman didn't derive any real enjoyment from watching the scattered riots and mounting unrest across Caelo Ruinam – his personality was too fractured to allow for anything so emotional and visceral – but there was some satisfaction there. It was a satisfaction tempered by disappointment at the sheer inefficiency of the fractious mobs, but it was still a success. He had to hand it to Midday: her intellect may have been positively childlike next to his own, but she at least had the sense not to build an army that wouldn't immediately and universally turn against her. He briefly considered that the sniveling little heart might have had some insight into how to maximize the potential of the coup, but the thought of interacting with him more than was absolutely required was too repugnant to consider. This was working at an acceptable level. There were more important things to monitor and influence than tweaking the revolution to perfection.

With that in mind, he idly panned through a handful of viewpoints he considered were statistically likeliest to have what he was looking for; he was rewarded on the fourth one with the image of Tengeri reaching Garland's shop. He briefly considered interceding when the trio of soldiers approached, but judged it wasn't likely to play out in a way unfavorable to himself or his goals. As always, he was right: the soldiers were handily driven off, and for her trouble the sea serpent received a weapon she would be much better equipped to use than the Deicide. Excellent. Everything that needed to happen here had happened, so–

"So we should just end things now before the wrong people get hurt, right?"

Greenman grimaced, but he was in accordance with his diminutive counterpart.

"Yes. There's no sense in allowing the good doctor to come to any harm as long as she represents our current-best plan against the Fool. We will eliminate one of our more superfluous opponents and move along to the next round. It's possible Dr. Nyoka will attempt to strike then, but more likely she will take the time to regroup and plan."

"When you say we'll eliminate one, you don't mean, like, personally?"

He shook his head, jowls quivering in a distinctly negative way. "Of course not. The only one close enough to make an attempt on in a reasonable timeframe is Naamxe, who may be near, with, or even protected by Midday by now. I will orchestrate the elimination with the systems I have at my command here."

"Oh, good." The Heart swallowed. "I'm pretty sure Blue Ray was the best fighter of us anyway."

"Perhaps. It is immaterial. Information and misdirection are far more valuable than martial prowess."

"Who are you going to take out?"

Greenman hadn't actually decided himself, yet, but wasn't about to admit that.

"I should think it would be obvious," he drawled, flicking through camera terminals to refamiliarize himself with the situation. "As I said, Naamxe is currently too dangerous to target and may have his uses in the future in any case."

"Plus we don't know what happens if he dies and Huebert survives. That's a bad idea."

"Your attachment to the squid is noted. The meat-man himself, along with Kajan, may get themselves killed without my aid in any case, and are thus not worth targeting. The cube is with them, and though his value in continued survival is negligible, he is similarly not enough of a threat to waste an opportunity to kill someone more dangerous. Jetsam, on the other hand, has proven himself treacherous and inherently unpredictable. He is currently trapped and disoriented. He is the logical choice."

"Poor guy."

"Mmm. He may view his death as a blessing, truthfully."

"Yeah. That's what makes it so sad."

"Again, it is immaterial. Between the automated defenses I've commandeered and the troops I can no doubt muster, he will be dead soon."


The hand flexed, pressing a button by its wrist; a number of hologram screens sprung into place, reading out data faster than anyone in the room could follow. After a few moments of this, whatever was behind the hand seemed satisfied and stepped through the gate. It was difficult to tell much about the figure beyond a vaguely-humanoid body plan: the suit it wore covered every inch of it with bulky protective clothing and apparatuses of no immediately-clear purpose, and its head was shielded by a large, reflective faceplate. It touched its collar and began speaking in a flat, clipped voice.

"Environmental readings consistent with pre-gate projections. Gate safely traversed. Group one, secure a perimeter. Group two, establish primary data outpost. Group three–" At this point, the figure, which had been surveying the room, paused. "There are injured natives. Bring a xenomedicine team through, as well as backup interview equipment."

Behind the figure, more came through, all shrouded by similar suits but most clearly of different species or designs. They swarmed around the portal and the room, performing arcane tasks; all of the natives of the world were too stunned by their proximity to the sundering of their laws of reality to do or say anything, and the Battlers themselves simply didn't know how to respond. Fortunately, the original figure crossed the floor and did the responding for them.

"I don't know if you can understand me, but my translator's scans would seem to indicate you should."

Velobo looked back and forth, too nonplussed to protest; he was the only one still standing, between Dorukomets's attack and the portal's opening.

"I, uh… Yeah, I can understand you. Can you hear me?"

"Good, yes. My name is Cendil, of the Neramis Science Coalition." Velobo half-expected an extended arm for a handshake, but it seemed that language or not, culture wasn't being transmitted. "I and my team mean you no harm. I come from another universe, but I have no way of knowing whether your culture has progressed to the point of understanding the concept."

Despite the gravity of everything going on with the battle, and going on with Midday, and going on with Dorukomets, Velobo had to chuckle. "Heh. You have no idea."

"I'm sorry?"

"Sorry, it's just… I've been through a few universes myself today. Not that I really wanted to."

Cendil stood impassively for several seconds, his reaction impossible to read through the suit and his small body's stance completely neutral.

"Then further explanation is probably unnecessary. My team will treat your wounded, but I would appreciate it if you would in return give us some information about this place."

The initial shock of their arrival was starting to wear off, and Velobo realized that now was probably not the best time to sit down and have a chat with a bunch of strangers. "Well, I was actually in the middle of some pretty important–"

"This is a matter of some urgency for us as well."

He glanced over at the rune that still marked Alex's passage. "Well, I guess I can't really do much until my friends recover. What did you want to know?"

Before Cendil could respond, one of his subordinates broke off from the group that had been swarming around the downed fighters and called out. "Team Leader! I've got confirmation that the large biped's glove is a Plazmuth artifact!"

Cendil scurried to meet it as it lumbered across the floor, barely skirting the medical equipment that had begun springing into being at the suited technician's hands. It lowered its voice, inasmuch as it seemed capable. "The bracelet on the little square thing's another one."

Even though it'd been pretty clear he hadn't been meant to hear that, Velobo had a hard time not trusting people whose first reaction to finding someone injured was to try to heal them. He briefly considered his options, then spoke up. "Yeah, actually, they are."

Cendil looked at his subordinate as unreadably as ever, then back at Velobo. "You're aware of the Plazmuth and their relics, then?"

"You could say that."

"How long have these ones been active? Are you familiar with their operation or what activated them?"

"Uh, not too long. Really recently, actually." He thought back to his worries about letting Plazmuth technology into the wrong hands. He thought back to Sivach's hope and confidence. Deep down, Velobo liked to believe the best of people; it was in his nature, and these ones seemed no exception. He decided to lay his cards on the table. "As recently as, uh, when I turned them on."

"You activated them? But how?"

"I'm a Plazmuth."


Tengeri wasn't making great progress. Apparently at some point between obtaining the feather and getting her tool enchanted, everything had gone straight to Hell. There were troops swarming all over the place, some of them fighting the fortress's denizens, some of them fighting each other, some of them seemingly just running around and screaming to run around and scream. Even with her sensors faithfully pointing her in – what she assumed was – the right direction, she had to backtrack and skirt and hide constantly to avoid confrontations with everything from shock troops to mechs to leviath-sized cockroaches. Every time she thought she'd found a safe way to proceed, or even just had lost a potential threat, something else would appear. On top of that was the collateral damage the fortress itself was taking from Midday's army's infighting: more than once she'd had to double back on a promising corridor because it was blocked by some disabled piece of scenery or rubble from a collapsed floor above. It was incredibly frustrating, especially as the conduits she was following began to periodically flare and dim. Something was going wrong with the mana core or whatever it was and she had to get there and try to stop it and there was always something in the way!

She was losing time, and the more she lost, the more likely it was that this whole place would fall from the sky and kill everyone on it. Not that she was considering herself the only being sensible enough or with expertise enough to repair the source of power on a flying fortress, but… It was never safe to assume anyone else would do anything. Hell, wasn't that why she had volunteered herself for the task of fighting the Fool? You could only ever really count on what you could know, and the only thing you could ever really know is yourself. She had to do what she could.

So why was she hiding in alcoves, letting rats and madmen stop her from saving them all?

It was a thought that had occurred to her several times over the course of her trek. She suppressed it once again, angrily narrowing her biological eyes. She had been a pacifist, a woman of science and healing, her entire life. Why was it now that she was so sorely tempted to betray the principles she'd held for so many cycles just for expediency's sake? She had several times considered that perhaps the new Deicide was somehow exerting influence over her mind, trying to subvert her to warlike barbarism, but she knew the reality was even more dangerous:

She was terrified.

The gravity of the situation was really finally starting to impress itself on her. Things had always been happening so fast, ever since the start of the battle, that there was always something in front of her to deal with that stopped her thinking about the bigger things behind them. A meltdown to stop, a bomb to defuse, a traitor to punish. But now there were so many things to deal with that they were starting to take the shape of the larger ones, and she didn't have the energy to ignore them any more. The full magnitude of what had happened, and what she intended, was too much to bear. And on top of everything else, she'd taken on the responsibility of stopping the flux core from failing, taken the lives of everyone on board Caelo Ruinam as hers to protect. Under that strain, she's become so stressed and afraid that she'd been tempted to adopt a violent, ends-justify-the-means attitude, pressing through what- and whoever stopped her, sacrificing the few to save the many. Was that how someone like Scofflaw started? Thinking they were doing the right, but cold, thing, only to have the ends move so often in the end that they were unrecognizable and callous?

She wouldn't do it, but she'd had the thought. She didn't like what that said about her. She steeled herself and pressed onward, trying not to let her worries and weaknesses distract her from what needed doing, and more importantly not to let them change how she'd do it. She'd follow the conduits to the core, dodging and retracing where needed, and that was that.

Of course, she'd never make it to the core, not as long as someone with control of Ruinam's internal systems was rerouting the power grid to lead her as far away from Jetsam as possible.


"… But as I was telling Selfaz to get off the moon and leave us be, I was abducted. At first I thought it was just some sort of teleportation, but now I know I was actually taken from my home universe. From the remnants of my species. Sivach said he thinks there are more, but they were the only ones I knew of."

"And this was when you were taken to the battle to the death you mentioned?"

"Yeah. I really shouldn't just tell the whole story, though, I really am in the middle of something very important."

"I'll inform you as soon as your companions are conscious and well." In most cases, that would involve the anesthesia he'd had administered to them to keep Velobo talking wearing off. "What harm is there in telling me while you wait?"

Velobo shrugged. "As soon as I appeared, or disappeared or whatever, this Fool with a scepter starts talking. He explains the rules and starts introducing us, one by one. First up was Benjamin Jetsam, who…"

Cendil hadn't intended to interrupt again, but as Velobo introduced the other contestants he quickly found himself interjecting, checking for the umpteenth time that his recording device was taking this all down. "Doctor Nyoka? Was that her full name? Could you please describe her?"

"Oh, sure… Tengeri Nyoka, she's a big sea serpent with some cyborg parts that swims around in a bubble of floating water. She's a cyberneticist, and one of the nicest people in the battle. Why?"

Cendil didn't answer, and Velobo was entirely unaware of his urgency as he asked the next question. "Did you ever encounter a three-headed reptilian creature that may have called itself Nalyg, Razaran, and Kanpeki, or Nalzaki?"

"No, nothing like that. Sounds like something I'd remember. Why?"

"Doctor Nyoka is a citizen of my own universe, as is the Kryesan I described to you. Both recently disappeared, and the coincidence of encountering one made me suspect the other may have been taken to this battle as well. It would seem not, I apologize. Please continue."

Velobo anxiously watched a medical technician applying an IV to Dorukomets. "Are you sure they're going to be okay? We were actually on our way to fight an evil military dictator who I think is planning to blow up a city or something."

That gave the insectoid pause. "Certainly. I will impress the need for urgency on my staff." As the fortress shook and groaned again, he turned over his shoulder and said "As well as repeating the urgency to discover the source of these anomalies."

A many-limbed standing agitatedly as a console waved several arms in annoyance. "I'm working on it!"

"Please continue, Velobo. Your companions' condition is stable, and I assure you I will inform you as soon as they improve."

Velobo did continue for a while, but as he was describing his interactions with the black-ops in the Battlefield, he was once again interrupted. The limb-thing scurried over, hissing anxiously at Cendil.

"Team Leader, I've found it. You're gonna want to come see this."

Cendil nodded and rose, politely motioning Velobo to stay. Figuring anything that might threaten the integrity of Caelo Ruinam was his business as much as anybody else's, he declined to do so and followed the pair to the computer.

"Looks like the whole place runs off this one power source. Uses exotic energy we don't really understand yet, but looks like it only uses it to generate and direct more mundane electromagnetic emissions. Pretty efficient. Looks like it shouldn't work, actually, but we don't really know much about this place's laws. Problem iiiis…"

At this point, it panned the camera system it had appropriated down. Ursus and Jetsam were standing near the core, Jetsam in a supplicant position with his forelimbs outstretched, Ursus with his claws bloodied and daubing on the surface of the core's machinery. Dracodactyl blood oozed sluggishly out of a number of wounds on Jetsam, all of them seemingly-carefully nonlethal. Though there were obvious signs of a struggle, neither was doing anything overtly threatening. However, periodically as Ursus continued his designs the core would make a horrible shrieking noise and flicker; the worst of these would be accompanied by the fortress shuddering and the lights dimming or going off, only to come back at full strength as the ancient enchantments on the power source struggled against Ursus's sigils.

"Oh… No!" Velobo shouted before the technician could continue or Cendil could respond. "That's Jetsam!"

"The shapeshifting man you mentioned?"

"Yes! I've got to save him!"

The technician shrugged complicatedly. "Densitometers and radiography got us a pretty complete map of this place, and this thing's about as far away from us as it's possible to be."

"I don't care. I'm going. I have to try!"

Cendil glanced around behind the privacy of his helmet. "I can send a detachment there to help him out, but don't you think it would be safer for you to stay here?"

"I don't care about my safety, he's my friend." Displaying some of the canniness that always caught people talking to him off guard, Velobo continued, "Besides, if he dies, I disappear too, which means you lose the only Plazmuth you've ever met."

"Hmm. Alright, take some of my men. They'll get you there as quickly as possible, but be careful. Mr. Jetsam isn't the only one relying on you."

With little more preamble, Velobo and five NSC commandos dashed off, the cuboid only stopping to shout over his shoulder about letting his friends know what happened when they woke up. Guided by three-dimensional holomaps and with disintegrators that cared very little about things like walls, the group hurried away. Cendil turned back to his remaining charges and subordinates.

"Have we located Dr. Nyoka yet?"

"Yessir. She's moving away from us, but not quickly. She's stopping a lot to avoid being seen."

"Send a team to secure her. If the Plazmuth or any of the other ones die, I at least want to be able to save her."


If TinTen had expected his flight with Midday to be difficult, he was certainly surprised to be proven so wrong. Whatever power the woman had – his scientist's mind still reeled at calling it "magic", despite all the evidence in front of him – it was more than sufficient to keep the pair of them safe. Whether she simply electrocuted or burned or disintegrated those that found them, or somehow fooled them into thinking she was someone else or not there at all, or even turned them against each other with a thought, it was all incredibly effective. Her own mutinying soldiers fell as easily as the ancient guardians that had been installed to protect the fortress from people like her and the wandering monsters that had established their homes in its dark corridors out of convenience. Aside from the occasional demand that he cover her while she prepared a more complicated spell or clear a dense group with
a grenade, she didn't seem to need TinTen at all.

This made him incredibly nervous, but he tried to rationalize it as a her holding him as some sort of fallback or ace in the whole, rather than a sacrificial pawn or something more sinister. It was hard to believe, but he had little other choice; who else had the ability and information to help him excise the cancer that was Scofflaw? He wished he had time to consult his books; the lack of knowledge about what was to come and what the results would be was disorienting, and somehow more worrisome than the actual fact of having allied himself with a mysterious supernatural murderer. He tried to keep his worries to himself and to communicate with her as little as possible, but eventually his curiosity and hatred of a mysterious future got the better of him.

"Your destination?"

Lady Midday didn't bother to alter her stride – which TinTen might have wondered how she managed at all if he'd been more familiar with vertebrate morphology – or turn as she snapped "I told you not to worry about my plan."

"Would still like to know ultimate goal. Will be more effective ally if I know what to look for or avoid. Surely cannot be harmful information?"

She sighed. "Fine, if it'll mean I don't have to listen to any more half-sentences from you. We're heading back to the hangar."

"Hangar that was filled with thousands of troops and attack vehicles?"

"The same. The ancient geniuses that built this place didn't have the foresight to outfit it with any kind of emergency escape mechanisms, and it's shielded from any teleportation in or out that I could manage."

TinTen wasn't sure if it was worrying or heartening that Midday was definitely not on the level of the Fool if she couldn't teleport in or out of the place. At the very least it seemed to make it more likely that she actually did need him to be more than a body shield.

"We're going to rush the hangar, kill who we need to kill to get to a vehicle, and get out of here before something ridiculous happens. You've been feeling those shudders? I'm pretty sure some idiot decided to attack the power core in the middle of the riots. If there are no vehicles left, I'll still be able to get us out of here, but you'll need to cover me."

She kept moving, never having stopped; TinTen kept following, fine manipulators drumming a tattoo on the stock of his weapon. He wasn't foolish enough to ask for more details, but knowing the goal and outline of the plan really hadn't made him feel as much better as he hoped it would have. He did his best to put it out of his mind; fretting got him nowhere, and there were certainly more pressing things to deal with.

It was something of a relief to blow apart another wave of giant mutated animals. At least he understood that.


"Can you hear me?"

There was no response but fluttering eyelids and a guttural groan.

"Are you conscious, uh…" A pause of exactly the length it takes to glance down at a clipboard. "Sir Dorukomets?"

Another groan. Eventually
"I hear you."

"Great, great. I was wondering if I could talk to you about the gauntlet you're wearing?"

"About the gauntlet."

"Yes, the gauntlet. Are you aware of its capabilities or manner of use?"


The technician glanced worriedly at the readouts her impromptu medical station was feeding her. The anesthesia they'd used to keep the natives quiet shouldn't have had lingering effects like this, and she was beginning to worry they'd overdosed the subject somehow, or that his body chemistry was different than their xenobiologist had predicted. That was extremely worrying. Of course, she had no way of knowing his muddled state had nothing to do with the drugs and everything to do with being forcibly ripped from a story he himself had ruined before it could be put back on the right track; the influence of the Grand Battlers had been enough to knock the universe's internal narrative gyroscopes off-kilter, but the NSC's arrival had thoroughly destroyed them. The tranquilizers had been thoroughly metabolized, but the psychic shock of being present when the laws of reality he'd been accustomed to for his entire life had been broken lingered past them.

"Hey, Ejjet, are we approved to use Kickstart on a hominid like this?"

Something tripedal stumbled over.

"Yeah, should be, but you shouldn't have to. What's wrong?"

"What is wrong?"

"I don't know. Might be a preexisting condition, but it looks more like tranq side-effects."

"Hmm…" It wasn't a very specific noise, but if communicated a lot. The technician looked up hurriedly.

"Don't hmm at me like that. How are the others?"

"One of the humans came to, and the telpori, but the other human and the unidentified avian and cephalopod are acting the same as this one. Don't know what it is."

"How about the weird cube thing?"

"Ran off a few minutes ago. We sent some troops with it. weren't you paying attention?"

"I had more important–" she was quickly cut off by the many-armed thing called Dorukomets bolting upright.

"Calidad? Where did he go?"

She put an hand on his shoulder. "I think you should calm down and clear your head a little before you worry about that."

He picked her up bodily by the throat-analogue, meaty fingers threatening to rip through her reinforced environment suit. All he knew right now was that Velobo was somehow of utmost importance.
"Where did he go!"

She shakingly pointed towards a door, and he tossed her limply aside. Several technicians and guards moved to restrain him, but he swung his gauntleted hand in a wide arc; with a robotic screeching sound, it forced them all away, sending them tumbling and damaging a fair amount of equipment. Dorukomets thundered off in the way he'd been pointed; as he passed Huebert – who hadn't been particularly cooperative when he realized he'd been doped and had been subsequently magna-manacled – Huebert renewed his struggle against the restraints.

"Don't let that murdering fucker get away!"


Greenman had stopped monitoring the cameras much. He was supremely confident that despite the control center's proximity to much of the action, no-one would be able to get in without his permission; what was the point of a control center anyone could just waltz into? Similarly, he was confident that despite the not-completely optimal spread of the riots, they wouldn't be petering out any time soon; he'd done his job too well, and the enormous gilderupee prize for Midday would certainly keep things cutthroat. Ray Red had wandered off somewhere, but that wasn't really important; he could be found in the unlikely event that the need arose with the same systems that were keeping an intermittent eye on Tengeri and the other battlers, and his absence just made the brain's real plans easier to implement. With a very precise and flat grin, Greenman sent runes spinning and growing across his monitor, stopping only to occasionally guide his charge out of undue danger and ensure someone was still on their way to kill Jetsam. But not too quickly.

The code had been designed to resist change without the Prime's own additions, but Greenman had the Prime's capabilities with none of his weaknesses. It was steadily bowing before him, and would give up its secrets in due time. The brain had no intention of being dismissed or destroyed when his original purpose had been served, and even less of being reintegrated with the heart. The Prime had been a fool to underestimate him and more foolish still to assume his creations would be obedient. He would soon pay for his folly, and Greenman would have everything under his control.

The projected time for completed alteration and compiling – seventeen minutes, forty-three seconds, give or take ten – wouldn't be half over before the brain was interrupted. A cold metal tube pressed itself into the back of his neck; he hadn't heard anyone approaching, but being a literal presence of mind, he had the presence of mind not to try to turn around.

"I don't even have to ask what that is, do I?"

"I assume you do not. I do have to ask why you would fight it, however. Surely your loyalty to the Prime is the lowest of any of ours."

"Yeah, well… You're even worse than he is, you know that? At least he feels things sometimes." Ray Red sniffed. "Sort of. And I may not be the brain, but I'm not stupid either. I know you don't have any intention of letting me stick around."

"On the contrary, you've proven nothing but invaluable. I value your counsel, and–"

"I did say I wasn't stupid. I can't read the code, but I know him and you well enough to know you don't want to share."

"Be reasonable, Ray Red. I–"

"Your rhetoric really isn't up to snuff without me and Blue, is it?"

Greenman's clammy lips didn't even have time to open again before the brain's brain matter found itself rather uselessly spattered across the monitor, obscuring its treachery and causing a small short in the keyboard. Ray Red turned to the Prime, who was still snoozing blissfully away, insofar as Scofflaw could ever be described as particularly blissful. The diminutive little man crossed the floor in a few shaking steps, still not sure this was what he should be doing. It was certainly not what he'd been created for, but who was to say that should dictate anything? He'd felt like this is what needed to happen since before he existed; in the heart's heart of hearts, it felt right. He raised the gun.

The Prime's hand shot out, holding a penknife that Ray Red was pretty sure wasn't there before and might never have existed until this moment. The other one grabbed the barrel of the pistol, pointing it away right as the jumpy heart fired, and the knife's blade jammed itself deep into flesh.

"Come on. Did you really think I would sleep through that? You literally just shot someone right next to me. None of you even checked on me the entire time you were plotting. I've never been more disappointed in myself."

With a flick of a button at the knife's base, the Science Sadist bent space around his impaled servant in a gesture that would have been much more poignant if it had been anyone else stabbing their own heart.

"Never just assume magical sleep's gonna go on forever. Hell, you didn't even find out if it really was magical sleep."

With several of his organs occupying different spacial laws, there was a rather messy implosion that quickly decided it was more interested in being an explosion. Ray Red crumpled to the floor and dropped his weapon, a rather sizable hole in his side disgorging quite a lot of biomass.

"Honestly. You of all people ought to know that as long as I've been in the business, I'm not going to go creating duplicates that can overthrow me. I can't blame the intellect for being a little dense, but you? Come on."

Ray Prime stepped over his victim, cleaning the blade on the downed heart's coat before returning it to a pocket. He rolled his eyes at the piteous expression he was being given, but it was obvious the heart wasn't really in a position to speak much.

"What, you can't seriously expect me to finish you off. A man can't kill his own heart, that would just be cruel. And stupidly symbolic."

He straightened his goggles and headed for the door.

"Besides, I've got more important things to do. Got to find out what you three stooges let happen while I was down for the count."


The flux core screamed like a dying animal, which depending on perspective might be a more apt simile than it at first seems. Jetsam lay in supplication at its edge, wincing occasionally as Ursus delicately drew new blood from scratches farther and farther up his forelimbs. Tock's remains had been pushed roughly away from the bear's workspace, and O'Keele's body had been roughly tossed just far enough aside to keep out from under his paws. Gareth had wept as he'd melted from the floor, the ranger insisting he flee while he still had the chance right up until Jetsam had beheaded him. If he'd been in his right mind, he might have been surprised at the complete lack of compunction he had with essentially-unprovoked murder; at that moment, it simply didn't occur to him. Everything really was going to be okay.

Everything was going to be okay for Ursus, too. As okay as he'd planned it at least. He figured he had pretty even odds of surviving past his goals, too, which was just the icing on top of the okay cake. If he didn't, his deeds would stand – not lauded, by his people or the humans, but noticed and incontrovertible, and as far as he was concerned right. A complicated alphabet of otherwise-forgotten runes spilled across the core in blood and fur and rage, and its delicately rough assault on the ancient enchantments progressed unabated. The room was sealed, the blood was flowing, and the fortress would fall. Midday would die in its ruins, but that was a paltry fringe benefit; Caelo Ruinam itself would be destroyed, the last relic of an ancient empire that deserved to be wiped from history and memory, and it would take the mightiest city of the craven humans with it. None would celebrate this day, but few typically rejoice at what must be done. Being lauded was immaterial; being right was all that mattered. In this impregnable cocoon of stone and venerable spite, Ursus would set about rectifying generations of misdeeds.

Then the door disintegrated. The wall followed moments after.

A phalanx of mech-suited shock troops, flanked by a group of nullmages and artillecasters, stepped into the flux chamber. They wasted no time raising their weapons and voices, but Jetsam wasted no more; as the first shots were fired, he had already rolled to the side and lunged at the attackers. Ursus was more hesitant, his intense concentration being interrupted and a series of thoughts spiraling through his head: if they fought, the dracodactyl would almost certainly be killed; if he allowed the ancient creature that had dragged itself to the shores of sapience by pure force of will to die for his vendetta, he was on the same level as those he wanted to destroy; if he sent it away, there was a very real chance he wouldn't have sufficient power and materials to finish destroying the core. His eyes darted in their singed sockets as a debate played itself out in his mind at a speed bears were rarely credited with thinking; the dragon lunged in slow motion as bolts of plasma shrieked through the air. Ursus came to a decision.

"Save yourself! That is an order!"

Jetsam was briefly confused, but his instincts and Ursus's influence reconciled quickly; without turning back or hesitating, he turned his furious lunge into a buffeting sweep of the wings, knocking enough of a gap in the closing ranks of suited soldiers to slip through. Without wondering why he was fleeing, or why it felt so okay to do so, Jetsam fled. Greenman's hit squad let him pass, closing ranks behind them; regardless of their orders or the rewards they'd been promised for following them, they had to stop the bear from knocking the whole place out of the sky. There was no use in a bounty that got you killed collecting it.

Besides, they had backup.

Jetsam skidded into the hall outside, claws scrabbling across the stone and leaving deep gouges in it, wings beating furiously to stabilize and direct him. He made as though to charge away, running faster than he was thinking, but found himself stopped. On both sides, more of the wizards and mechanically-augmented men hemmed him in. For the first time since being released from Midday's domination, he didn't feel okay. He felt hopeless. He felt trapped. The urge to disembowel those who stood in his way was supplanted by the urge to survive, was replaced by the urge to run, withered in the face of the situation. None of his instincts, none of the various forces that currently had a foothold in his mind, gave him options.

He was going to be vaporized.


It hadn't taken too long to get back to the hangar; Midday's personal chambers hadn't been very far from it, and even though there was a lot more opposition now than there had been when TinTen had bluffed his way there in the first place, it wasn't particularly difficult to overcome. Between spellcasting and gunslinging, it was almost disturbing how largely uneventful the trek was. TinTen barely had to lift a tentacle, or even his weapon; she took care of the rest. And so it was that he came to the memorably unassuming door that lead to their goal much sooner than he was really comfortably. Or perhaps much too late; he'd much rather have not been there at all.

Midday predictably wasted little time crossing the floor, putting her hand directly on the wall and ignoring the door completely. TinTen hoisted his grenade launcher hesitantly as she muttered a few arcane syllables; he stumbled hastily and fearfully as a circle of the wall evaporated and revealed the room beyond. More than the sheer number of still-embattled troops in the enormous room, the carnage and gore revolted and terrified him. He fumbled hastily with his weapon, making as though to fire a shot at the nearest group before they could see and attack him, but the sorceress whirled on him.

"Put that down, you idiot! The wall's still there, and they can see through it. Only we can. You'll blow us both to Hell with that thing."

Too afraid to be embarrassed, he lowered it.

"What to do, then?"

She gestured at the illusory window. "As you can see, a considerable portion of my army's out there, as well as most of my biggest, nastiest weapons. There's no way to know how much of it, if any, is still loyal, and no way to find out which parts are in any case. We walk out there right, we both die. There's no two ways about it. I'm the most powerful mage in this world, but even I can't take on this much all at once, not without time to prepare some mass-destruction-grade necromancy."

Proving that even though it might have been loosed from its narrative anchors the world still had a sense of dramatic timing, the fortress shook again and dropped minutely but noticeably.

"And you can see we don't have that kind of time."

"Your proposal?"

Midday led the quivering scientist to the portal, hands on what could be called his shoulders as she directed his gaze around the warfare-sticken room.

"This is where I need your help. What are you willing to do to ensure we make it out of here alive? What are you willing to do to make sure I live long enough to crush your Scofflaw like the worm he is?"

There was a short pause. "Anything."

She turned him around. "Define anything."

He looked up into her eyes as she looked down into his and expected to feel the invasive sting of magic in his mind again, somehow influencing him, somehow harming him, but all there was was her mundanely piercing gaze.



She raised her hand as if to strike him, but the slap never came. Instead, her other thumb came up to meet its palm, nail gouging a twisted pattern in the skin. As the blood began to flow, she pressed it to his mantle, between and above his googles.

"That's what I needed to hear."

TinTen crumpled to the ground as a searing sensation suffused every one of his senses, the only outward sign being a flash of light and the sigil seemingly painting itself on his flesh where she'd placed it. He didn't rise again, but something else stood his body back up.

"The summoning is complete! By the seventh seal of–"

"Shut up," Midday snapped. "There's no time for pageantry. I've got a task for you."

"Of course you do. And even a willing vessel for it this time, I see. You must be serious."

"Get in that room, kill everyone in it without destroying the flying machines, and keep your body alive. I might need it later. And don't fuck this one up or play with wordings; you know what I want, and I expect to get it from you."

"You realize of course that this last task represents the end of our contract?"

"Yes, I know."

"And that at its completion I will of course come for you, body, throne, and soul?"

"I told you I don't have time for games this time. You know damn well your best chance at this world is with me in it. You screw up in there or come at me afterwards and all you do is ensure yourself another few eternities of limbo and no decent cults worshipping you."

"Mmm." TinTen's eyes narrowed behind his goggles. "You're frightened."

"This place is ten thousand feet in the air and about to fall and every member of my army wants me dead. I'm not afraid, but I'm pressed for time. Get on with it or I'll just banish you and take care of things myself."

"This body isn't very impressive. No talent whatsoever, no physical presence worth speaking of."

"For the undying hate of [six seconds of ululating screeches untranscribable by any existent language] get on with it!" Midday finally shouted, several bricks cracking beneath her feet with the blasphemy. "We both know the body doesn't matter. You can feel you've got the freedom with this one's consent to exercise your own powers. Now do it."

"Fine. If you're not going to respect the gravity of my final summoning then I'll just trot out there and take care of your dirty work like a common demon." He or it or they squelched with annoyance and borrowed TinTen's most put-upon stance. "But I intend to speak with you later about this indignity."

"Get on with it."

Tentacles slithered. The door opened. Eyes and guns and spells and turrets turned on the little figure that emerged; one raised manipulator was enough to halt the kinetic energy of everything coming its way, while another was enough to drain all the thaumic potential aimed at it. Bodies were knocked about as physics rebounded on itself and interrupted incantations manifested as throats full of needles, but such concerns were quickly rendered inconsequential. TinTen's mouth whispered in its rebreather, muttering dark profanities that were completely irrelevant to the dark intent that whatever was whispering them was mustering, but that added a certain atmosphere it felt was appropriate. All across the hangar, living things found themselves losing control of their bodies, which collapsed spasming to the floor before their limbs began contorting painfully and eventually shattering. Blood vessels and whatever analogues for them could be found literally knotted themselves around the hearts that gave them life before crawling out of mouths and eyes and chests. A wave of gruesome, keening death swept across the enormous room, downing every combatant in moments; the bodies of the dead and dying wove themselves into long-forbidden runes that ensured their souls would not be free to escape or face judgement.

It was over in seconds, the sounds of battle succumbing to the quiet whispers and gibbers of the eldritch aftermath and the psychic thrum of large-scale damnation before Midday had even finished stalking into the hangar. It was oppressive, and intentionally so.

"Showy," the witch spat as she entered. "I feel like I made myself pretty clear on the time constraints here, there's going to be no lollygagging around harvesting all these useless souls."

"They're not going anywhere," the thing in TinTen's shape sulked. "I really feel like you're not taking advantage of everything I have to offer."

"And I feel like you're not paying attention to anything I say. Does squidboy know how to fly one of these?"

It looked over at the small open-air flightcraft she was gesturing towards, which didn't look any more familiar through the host's brain than its own memories. "No, I don't think so."

"Then get on the back. I want him around when you leave."

TinTen's body clambered awkwardly into a seat designed for much more vertebrate passengers and clung tightly to whatever could be found to secure it while Midday straddled the pilot's seat of what could be most accurately described as an industrial magepunk motorcycle. For a moment, as the pair of them glared up at the opening hatches in front of them, surrounded by corpses and with Midday's calves taut as she primed the accelerator, they looked for all the world like the cover to a very specific type of heavy metal album. The effect was only slightly marred by the clearly-precarious grip the passenger had on its seat, then completely ruined as they took off and the backlash messily but undramatically scattered viscera.

It was as they climbed towards the escape that Scofflaw chose to poke his head out into the hangar proper.


Velobo had long since stopped trying to keep up with the NSC commandos that were leading him; he simply didn't have the stature or stride length to keep pace, and had settled for once again riding on someone's back. He might have worried about the rather unheroic appearance of his piggyback position, but at the moment he couldn't think of anything but Jetsam. Couldn't think of anything but what that bear he'd fought could be doing to his friend. Couldn't think of anything but what would happen if he and his new allies were too slow.

Progress was fast and disorienting, but still not fast enough. It was a great relief when one of the suited figures muttered "Alright, we're here."; the relief was heavily tempered by confusion given that 'here' was a silent and empty corridor.

"Where?" Velobo asked, wasting no time.

One of the others pulled up a camera feed. "Right below us, on the other side of that wall."

Velobo stared at the image, watching the bear further savage his friend. "Then what are we waiting for?!"

The soldier swiped through several other views. "Hostiles are approaching. We need to take the measure of them and establish a tactical position before we make a move."

The cube's mind raced, plans and countermeasures coming as intuitively as they had when he'd lead the rebellion. He hopped to the floor and gazed up at several feeds of the incoming soldiers.

"We can handle this."

Then he blanched when he saw more incoming. And blanched more when Jetsam burst out and was immediately surrounded.

"No… No! We have to do something! Hurry!"

The commandos looked at each other and the situation unfolding beneath them. "We need to–"

"There's no time!"

Without warning, the Plazmuth's tongue lashed out and wrapped around one of the devices the NSC had been using to blast through walls; he hastily aimed it and the floor and fired, falling through a descending cloud of neatly-organized molecules.

"Don't worry, Jetsam," he shouted, landing once again on the dracodactyl's neck as his escort descended warily on personal jetpacks in a tight, defensive formation. "I'm here to save you!"
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)
Your daily re-serving of Vitamin D

Where the D is for Double-You*, and the Double-You is for Words

*and Double Entendre

E: not going to bump this, but noting that I'm finally on the home stretch
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Three: Caelo Ruinam)

The soldiers gave Ursus a full second's reprieve before opening fire, which would've been sensible against any other target standing in front of whatever was keeping you and your surrounds afloat. Ursus managed to shuffle between three sets of runes on his arms before the first artillecaster loosed a shot. The barrage struck the bear and suffused the air with the smell of burnt flesh, one string of tattooed text flaring up and splitting off down the claws which wrought reality's alphabet.

The bear wasn't grinning, but the glowing Glasgows adorning his cheeks could've fooled you. He swung a fist; three bloodied trails on the floor channelled the Flux Core and congregated on the doorway, manafrying those about the rigged floor.

The ash of incinerated magicians eventually cleared, and the bear still stood. His hairless frame stood gaunter than ever, backlit by the Core. Spin. Crouch. One claw in the well of blood he'd thought to prepare, one bullet to the shoulder, one Static Ink activating and replying to the bullet with its own in white noise. It burrowed into the mech's circuits, shutting it down from within.

Guardian. Reflexes. A barrage of darts and shells struck the Guardian rune, for the most part, but a few darts got through and hovered just out of claw's reach. Ursus stomped his foot with Negate tattooed upon it, knocking out another mech and drawing an angry wail from the Core. He caught a manabolt in a raised paw, unInked lines of skin charring. Punched it into his floor-scrawled calculations, bringing the Reciprocal online and triggering a thaumic backlash on the hands of every Caster still standing. Three more bullets in his flank, another grinding its way in under the radius. the wound trickled in that sluggish venous way down his arm, threatening to mix with the dactyl blood at his claw.

The darts overhead whined as their Farady Node payloads activated. Ursus bellowed as the air they encompassed became a mess of sparks, his Spire Inks around his left eye struggling to earth the unleashed storm.

The darts, spent, fell with a clatter. Ursus' eye wasn't healing, and there was definitely his blood mixed into the barely-bulletproof Guardian. The bear scarcely managed a couple of Vectors to fling the bullets toward the Flux Core instead before they were upon him again. He kicked a grenade back into the crowd, but there was no end to the soldiers, and no way the dracodactyl could've made it through alive.

Ursus' Inks scorched fresh scars where a score of mechs and mages failed, not even flinching as he raised his arms and took a fireball to the bad side of his face.

The slam of his fists on the stone floor rang abnormally loud, colour draining from the chamber like someone had pulled the plug.

Everyone's stomachs dropped, as did the rest of their bodies in no-less-unpleasant unison. Ursus swayed a bit from the magical feedback, and could no longer avoid the fact he'd failed. No matter how much urgency he'd drilled into his commands for Ruinam to reroute energy from the Sunstroke Device to the thrusters, you could only force a city-palace of rock so fast through the sky. If Ursus shut the Core down now and triggered the freefall, he'd be lucky if the shockwave dislodged roof tiles in the outer boroughs.

He'd have to settle for dropping the Flux Core.

This had the unfortunate downsides of: making very inelegant use of a power source design feature Ruinam's builders had definitely exploited, to discourage anyone from trying to shoot them down; almost certainly killing himself and the dracodactyl, were it still alive somehow; and potentially obliterating most of the Northern Continent.

On the other claw: Fuck Midday, and fuck every damned soul still alive on this rock. It'd be over in a matter of minutes.

The Core seemed to sigh, before taking the magical equivalent of a deep breath as it drew Ruinam's power back into itself. Mana surged down the spiderwebbing blood Ursus had laid across the Core chamber, scrambling up the unmarked walls with deep cracking sounds. Some of the vanguard pressed forward, others retreated up the corridor; a few indecisive mechs lost their footing or were crushed between collapsing walls as the Core room and the Sunstroke Device split away from the rest of Ruinam.

Ursus stood slowly, unsteadily; nearly collapsed again and caught his claws in a well of dactyl blood. Scrawled heal over the bullet wounds and roared defiance.


Ten minutes prior, perhaps, Tengeri hissed with frustration as her sensors did a 180 in several dimensions, Greenman no longer around to misdirect her. The Flux Core pinged unhelpfully on her map, several floors deep and most quickly reached by delving into unfamiliar, probably-monster-infested, territory. The overhead lights thrummed and wavered again, which didn't help her stress levels any. The Leviath's options were constricting painfully back to "kill someone (Scofflaw) before the impending apocalypse kills us all," which seemed just as unreasonable a task in the current time frame.

A dire something or another leapt from a convenient shadow. If anything, she felt worse after hosing it down and slashing at it and hear it flee screaming in pain down a corridor.

Tengeri tried another scan, then had to scan again, rationally discrediting the notion her sensors could hallucinate.

Soldiers. A dozen heading her way. What took her by surprise was the fact they weren't mech troops or mages or featuring some variant of a human among their number. Tengeri was dimly aware of an ATTEMPTED TRANSMISSION flicking on and off in the corner of her video feed; she pulled it into focus with a fin-flick and stared for a moment at the logo.

Transmission accepted. "Greetings, Dr. Nyoka, we trust you are confirmed safe-"


Tor came to a fair bit faster than the rest of the "hominids", not that he'd deigned to tell anyone. He'd had quite enough of being off his tree this round, but had enough of a grip to not piss off his latest captors enough that they'd make a real effort to knock him out. Combusting his way out of there was an option, though judging by the way the Coalition had placed most of the flammable stuff out of harm's reach, Tor suspected he wouldn't have the element of surprise. He settled for badly startling the technician who came to check up on him, assuming a non-threatening posture while simultaneously glaring daggers.

A ways around, Huebert punched out a xenosurgeon and took another tranq dart to the bicep. Tor took a deep breath, trickling smoke.

"I'm going to put aside the fact you just sentrali drugged me," Tor settled for, not quite not spitting the last bit, "and ask we fill each other in on ru dorshramentan filte."

The technician blinked within its suit, thin mechanical hands poring over Tor's readout (sporting updated information courtesy of Velobo's expositing). "Mr. Kajan, we'll not detain you as soon as we ourselves've got a measure of the situ-"

"sentral te doa," Tor snarled. "By the time you're done drugging us, this castle - there's a-" Tor swore again, wishing he'd retained salient memory beyond 'boy, I sure was drugged'. "There's someone taking this fortress somewhere."

The technician chittered uneasily as a couple of determined-loooking vac-suits hauled some sophisticated manacles Huebert-ward. "We're aware, Mr. Kajan. Nonetheless, we request you stay put."

Tor stood up, and was rather proud of himself that he kicked over the screen rather than the guy in the vac-suit. His rebellion went mostly-unnoticed, because Dorukomets chose this moment to strangle a biologist and chase after the Plazmuth. Tor's attendant vac-suit gave a trill of alarm, more at the general violence rather than Tor's attempt at escape. The look Tor gave it didn't allay its fears, either.

The Telpori-Hal was in fight or f[l]ight mode, and he was seriously considering ripping the suit open and threatening to set the damn thing on fire. You'd need a shitload of good intentions to make up for drugging and incarcerating a guy, and whatever goodwill the NSC's portal offered was soured by recalling a dozen earlier moments when it would've been really fucking great for them to stage a rescue. Were they even bothering to do that, or were they just here to get a front row seat?

No, thought Tor. Fuck these guys. Fuck these guys for being the first clumsy glimmer of hope in this fucking battle.

He growled at the metal-limbed technican to back off, and from said safe distance deprived himself of the immediate means to set everything on fire. He felt a lot better.

The last of his flames died out, and Tor savoured the lull, if not quite the stares. He pushed the hair out of his eyes, squared his shoulders, and marched none-the-genially toward Cendil. The insectoid flinched, and some armed guards started toward him, but Tor took the hint and stopped as soon as he had their attention.

"If you can afford to keep us sedated, you can afford to keep me-" Tor had to catch himself here, and took a step toward Huebert and jabbed a thumb "-keep us out of your way. Let us take down that domratal."

Cendil raised a hand or three, glancing across at the scattered aliens. "Sir Dorukomets must answer to us, also. We prefer the coalition send our own troops to intercept him. We need him alive."

"Considering you just drugged me without my consent-" Tor caught his breath, willed himself to calm down and quit counting the seconds as the toxins built back up. "He murdered an innocent woman. If you put his sentrali freedom over mine, then I've got no good reason to trust your group's intentions are good." That was a bit of a gamble, on the off-chance these guys didn't actually care, but he was running on limited information. He wasn't misinterpreting, wasn't just a bystander in some completely tangential multiversal fuckery, was he? "I don't know why you need Velobo so badly you tore your way into this universe. I don't know why you did it now, instead of half an hour ago when Alex was still alive. Damnit, why not however sentrali long ago it was that Murdoch DIED!?"

Tor felt the kind of dread-induced nausea you got from trying to repeatedly ignite without fuel. "We understand the stress of your current situation," someone said distantly. "We're doing what we can to-"

"Don't." Tor spat at a hovering vac-suit, who flinched and guiltily hid another vial of something, "touch me." He broke into a run, vaulted over a few scientists still trying to pick their clumsy suited selves off the floor, and took after Dorukomets.


Jetsam didn't have time to marvel at the cookie-cutter-neat hole punched in his sense of hopelessness, orders were orders. He tensed, lunged at a recoiling mech suit even as Velobo fired the atomiser into the crowd, gripped at its visor, sprang off and ruined a NSC troop's descent when his wings dug at the air and his claws dug at stone, dragged himself through the gap, bullets punching the spell-scorched air and clipping his back legs and marking his ascent with a few dusk-coloured feathers.

The NSC soldiers and Velobo told him to halt, told him wait, they wouldn't hurt him, so he did his best not to murder them all and sprinted off like hell itself had plucked feathers from his tail. He ran through lightless halls until the rattle and keen of fighting faded and something else laid a background track to his ragged breaths: splitting stone.

Jetsam spun about, hissing with pain. Velobo clung to his hindquarters like Jetsam had been one good lurch shy of throwing him off.

"Jetsam, come on," begged Velobo, hauling himself forward so he could grab Jetsam's neck. "You can rest before we go back, but not out here. Midday's soldiers are everywhere."

"I've... I have to escape." Jetsam muttered, not quite directed at Velobo enough to call it a protest. "Save myself." The little cube settling itself down between his shoulders should've been bugging him, but the Plazmuth's advice made sense. Driving him away would be ancillary, no, counterproductive, to his goals. The dracodactyl lurched off again, ever-alert to the sounds of gunfire.

They found an alcove, a sa[f]e point in the dungeon, strangely intact and with a pair of critters already trying to take shelter. The Heal rune on the back wall half-heartedly sputtered to life, bathing Jetsam and Velobo and the two Bone Spiders in a minty sort of gloom. The dracodactyl slumped to the floor, shaking off the Plazmuth like a big square tick and dismissing the monsters with a rattle of its beak.

Velobo didn't bother Jetsam; the latter seemed preoccupied with his forearms, watching the faded rune knit the skin back together. He instead examined his atomising gun, which beeped a warning at him. Overheated, but not broken. Jetsam was staring.

"You saved me." His tone was neutral with a hint of reproach, but something about his feathered face lent incredulity.

"The NSC helped. They're people from Tengeri's world! I think they were looking for Plazmuth artifacts like my wristband, but now they know we're in a battle and want to help! That's how I go to you so quickly, they sent me with their soldiers." The Plazmuth's face fell a bit, the thrill of riding a dragon and rescuing Jetsam fading as he remembered the ranks of Midday's troops. "We have to go back. The NSC guys will hopefully be fine, but we were supposed to rescue you, and that bear's still down there..."

Everything about this discussion was bothering Jetsam, but it wasn't giving him any obvious hints for how best to save himself. "How did they get here? How are they leaving?"

"Oh, well they came through on some kind of portal from their universe, so I guess that's how they'll-"

Jetsam was already moving, trying to grab a beakful of Plazmuth en route to the door. Velobo backed off, bounced off a few walls, and sat himself down on his usual perch. Jetsam made a noise straddling a laugh and a sob of relief, easing back into a gallop as he retraced his steps.

"No, this is perfect, even if it is that snake - Ursus can finish his spell, I can leave - shit, maybe you lot did change things for the better-"

but didn't get far before Ruinam lurched rather more violently around him, sustained and suffused with the barlely-comprehensible tones of the world itself cracking under its own weight. Ahead, the floor was collapsing, taking the ceiling with it. Jetsam envisioned for a moment being crushed in a corridor, and the dread of failing Ursus was more awful to contemplate than suffocating in rock with all his bones broken. That was ok. That was understandable. Part of him still couldn't understand why he wouldn't run, try dodge a dungeon collapsing upon him despite the impossible odds.

It stopped, and Velobo stopped trying to pull out fistfuls of feather. Jetsam ignored him and listened intently, crests pinned back, staring at the rubble like sheer force of will might part it. He must have cowered, or flinched, or done something else to betray his despair, because Velobo wasn't telling him that it'd be ok and they'd find another way round.

He was asking what was wrong.

"He ripped out the core," said Jetsam, voice as hollow as if it had been his torn out and not Ruinam's. He shrieked a wet, acidic shriek, shaking his head like the dread was buzzing and flailing about inside it.

Velobo slapped him with his tongue. The dracodactyl snarled, would've bitten off the Plazmuth's nose if it had one, one twitch of the throat short of spitting venom in the olive face, but the little cube brandished a gun for someone a little larger. A strip of lights down its side was the only illumination in the now-unpowered hall. Velobo glared levelly back with his four applicable eyes, spitting out a feather.

"Can you fly out if I use this to blast a hole?"


Jetsam arched his neck, spitting at his feet. "No. I mean, yes! But outside's no safer, the Core was still live when he dropped it-"

Velobo was already scanning the rockfall, leaping atop a few choice boulders and pushing at others. He shot the atomiser into a nook, bringing down a little more ceiling but also a sliver of daylight.
"Can we shut it down, then?"

Jetsam was trying to flee, but the dracodactyl could smell fresh air - not quite whistling by, but Ruinam's groaning told him it wouldn't be far off. Felt a breeze, however faint, through its feathers. It smelt the smoke of smouldering foes and felt the ache in its arms of keeping a perfectly-attuned body airborne, in exquisite control. Jetsam wanted to say no, of course not, if Ursus were there then maybe, but there was no way he'd survived the hit squad but Jetsam was going to die in the blastwave of a Flux Core or he'd die in the rubble of a steadily-falling castle, and before he'd made a conscious decision he leapt to Velobo's side and scrabbled at the beams of daylight.

"In there," growled Jetsam, and the stone returned to dust and the rubble began to slide and the beams became a dizzying drop into which Jetsam slipped and scrambled and finally, thank the gods, fell. Something fell between his shoulders, too light and loud to be a rock, clutching at feathers and yelling about some gadget it had dropped and how that must be the Core Room and Jetsam, you're falling, are you sure you can fly-

Jetsam outstretched his arms, felt the snap in his neck and his shoulders and screeched because why fucking not. He carved a swarthe of air for himself with a sweep of his wings, finding a rhythm and hearing an "ok" from Velobo before diving.

The shadow of Ruinam, gutted underside and all, transcended looming and rather indubitably existed much like terra firma would soon, still trickling rubble from a dozen severed corridors. It didn't faze Jetsam.

This was the sky. Here, he could outrun anything.

"Jetsam, look-"


Tor caught his breath at the first crossroads where he felt confident the NSC weren't after him, hissing expletives on the exhale. He didn't need to tell himself that he shouldn't have done that, but faced with three corridors and zero clue as to which one Dorukomets or Velobo had taken, feeling good about recent decision-making was a tall order.

The running had cleared his head. A little. As best as it could when Tor expected a stun gun's darts in his back at any moment. The halls shook again, grumbling at the Telpori-Hal to make a move already. The path so far had been made clear enough, peppered with clumps of ash or other remnants of dungeon monsters. If this corridor looked untouched, he could just double back-

"Tor! Hey!"

"Huebert." Tor mostly sounded confused, so Huebert just tapped his shiny new comm and pointed down the leftmost corridor. The Telpori-Hal let the man pass, glancing up the other halls, then caught up at a clip. He had to skip and step every couple of paces to keep up with Huebert, who was much better built to cover ground quickly.

"Listen, I'm sorry I left you back there." Huebert dignified that with a grunt. Tor broke into an uncomfortably slow jog, trying to not be annoyed. "Did they let you just leave? Are there soldiers after us now?"

"Yeah and no. We can thank Tengeri for that."

"She's safe, then? Good, I hadn't heard from her all round-"

"Indeed I am. Huebert, my devices show I'm on speaker, would you confirm?"

"Uh-huh. Down here," Huebert motioned at a rather incongruous hole in the floor. Tor accepted his hand and was lowered down; Huebert just jumped, dislodging a fair bit of dust. "So we're all up to speed. The plan from here is we help secure Jetsam and we all head back to base. The real plan is we go teach that six-armed murdering piece of shit a lesson."

"We... the NSC need him alive," cautioned Tengeri.

"Subtle," snapped Tor.

"The Coalition is a decentralised operation, Tor. I'm NSC, yes, but a different branch to Cendil's unit. My loyalty remains with us, our battle. Overthrowing the Fool." She paused, unbeknownst to the two spacefarers she was considering the Deicide. Tengeri figured if Scofflaw knew, it was best they hear it from her. If the Fool were monitoring their conversations the secret was already out. "To that end, I found a weapon that might be able to kill him. It still needs testing, but with this we can plan an attack."

Huebert paused, and must've got some kind of update on the feed because he broke into a run. "You didn't strike me as the fighting type," he growled.

"Yeah. Can't you smuggle the weapon out when you go back home through the gate?" Tor did his best not to sound bitter.

"I've already discussed this with Cendil; either all six of us take the gate or none of us do. The technology's still experimental, the NSC needs Dorukomets and his gauntlet and then to get all their personnel out safely. If I go with them, I imagine the Fool will just kidnap me without warning again when somebody - Scofflaw, I'd hope, but the situation'd be beyond my control - dies. Any idea where TinTen is, Huebert?"

"Nope-" Huebert had to hold that thought, shoving Tor out of harm's way and uprooting an ambush with some well-aimed shots of his pistol- "but he can take care of himself. TinTen probably got some divine omen to hole himself up somewhere. Unless your hologrammarians or whatever can make a map and track him down, there's not much Tor and I can do to help with your godslaying business."

"Well, ideally, Scofflaw is... taken care of this round, and we regroup in the next. As long as we have Velobo's Plazmuth armband, the NSC can trace the signal and find us again."

"Can you tell us where Scofflaw is, then?"

"... I'm getting potential readings from the flight deck, up in the castle itself. I can't confirm it's him."

"So we can do shitall to deal with him. Great. If you don't mind, then, I'm going to unfuck at least one tiny piece of this world and avenge that Alex girl." He grinned mirthlessly at Tor, who was picking himself off the wall and doing his level best to feel appreciative instead of murderous. "I reckon Tor here needs to let off some steam as well, I wouldn't really trust him to rein Jetsam in or whatever like he is right now."

"Don't talk about him like he's some kind of animal," said Tor curtly, as he wondered whether he'd broken a rib. He kept stubborn pace with Huebert, the two barely paying a glance to Midday's felled troops. Once he'd set a pace with his breathing, he snapped at Tengeri, "I'm fine. Jetsam will be fine, and Huebert's right. We can do dortul-all else from our position."

The Leviath finally spoke; backtracking out of unwillingness to take sides in the latest line of discussion.
"I still don't think revenge is a worthy cause."

Huebert snorted, picked up the pace a bit as the comm flashed a proximity warning to the target. "Ok, listen. Noble intentions would be great if we had an outlet for them. We can't. Save. This world. And, I don't know about you your NSC and all your grand plans for next round, but I'm pretty fucking sore over that."

Huebert skidded around a corner, loosing a few energy bolts from his carbine with practiced ease. Dorukomets' armor rang as they bounced off, giving the dazed knight pause, but he took one look at his aggressor before charging off.

"Get back here, you fucking coward!"


"You've got a problem," squelched TinTen's mouth, struggling to be heard over the roar of the motorcycle. Midday caught the bottom quarter of Ruinam's stone base cracking off in an exquisitely timed turn of the head.

"That fucking bear," she hissed, scanning the landscape below to gauge the damage. A Flux Core large enough to power Ruinam would take out Triple City even from this distance, not to mention carve magical scars across the continent. She admired Ursus' capacity to hate existence for all of two seconds, before turning her ride around and more-or-less diving for Ruinam's underside. TinTen's houseguest deigned to lend a hand, telekinetically slowing a high-speed collision into a less-lethal landing with a tentacle's flick. Midday wasted no time peeling off the tentacles wrapped around her and looking for an easy way in.

"You're not shutting down the Core," it burbled. "I can stop this rock from falling, but the castle up top's beyond even me."

"Of course not. I'm picking up that treasonous cur and then we're teleporting out of the blast zone. If he thinks he's going out in a blaze of glory, tough."

Her companion struggled off the back of the motorcycle. "If you think I'm opening up a portal for you and waiting, think again. Fly out on your contraption and hope you get out of range."

"Don't be dense, hurry up and open a way through," Midday snapped, motioning at the rock underfoot. "Once the Magistrate in Triple City are all ash, you've nobody left but me to bother consorting with you Infernals. You'll see another sorceress of my calibre in, what, a couple centuries? Double that if this bomb burns out the manasphere. You need me."

The Meipi deigned to lend a limb, effortlessly unscrewing a pillar of rock and carving Midday a spiral staircase into the chambers below. Behind the rebreather, it grinned. For clarity's sake it exuded a triumphant aura, insidious flickers sparking up and off its form in the rising wind. "I needed you, witch. I needed you right up until your bear dropped this thaumonuclear payload, and I certainly don't need you to gather an army's worth of fettered souls to feed the ensuing rift." Whatever was behind the goggles just smirked wider, crushing the hewn rock into gravel and barely bothering to sidestep a fireball. "I'm done here, Midday. Go fetch your Sigilist; I'll be back for you and this world once the Gate germinates."

The air itself cackled maniacally as Midday and TinTen were showered with dust, the latter collapsing to the ground and smelling faintly of burnt calamari. Midday screamed with frustration, stopping only when something in Ruinam's shadow responded in turn.

Just what she needed. The dactyl, with a distinct lack of collar and distinct green cube clinging on for dear life, came shrieking down and scorched in the rock a venomous welt where the sorcercess had stood not half a second ago. Midday retaliated with an expertly-flung knife of distortion hidden in a boot, which struck the dragon's wing and twisted it in multiple impractical directions at once. Jetsam howled, crashed, and rolled past TinTen and Midday to a crumpled halt. Things were getting a bit unstable on top, and a freshly-dislodged tower shaking itself loose of the upper castle was a good enough reminder that she was pressed for time. Velobo recovered, found his way out from underneath various feathered limbs, and stood between Midday and Jetsam as best as he could manage.

TinTen came to just in time to see Velobo absorb a fireball with his wrist, then said wrist exploding into light and the blast knocking him back into some kind of monstrous bird. It took a moment's mounting pain to realise one of his eyes wasn't quite working, during which time the lip of stone was giving way under the Plazmuth.

The dracodactyl fell. TinTen couldn't muster a reaction before Velobo found his footing, and leapt after it.


About five minutes earlier (but one clip's worth of carbine fire too late), Huebert was officially sick of this fucker.

Whatever was messing with Ruinam's power source was clearly working to some narratively premature end, and Dorukomets had clearly lost all interest in maintaining midboss etiquette and helping resolve this fight before shit went irrevocably south. Tor wasn't much help either, a little too incensed to be accurate to the point of useful with his borrowed laser pistol.

Not that it was doing much damage when it did hit. Seriously, fuck this guy. The only appreciable progress to date was chasing him into a caved-in dead end and vaporising the longest of his quarterstaffs, which had really worked out as a net negative after Tor scolded him for using any energy weapons near the sentrali Gauntlet. Dorukomets wasn't even trying to fight back was the most infuriating thing about the situation; he was still fixated on reaching Velobo and it was all the pair could do to keep him hemmed in. Huebert couldn't even get in and just try land a solid punch because of the damn auto-counter, what with the last such attempt just giving Dorukomets a chance to shove past, heedlessly drag Tor along the ground for about ten feet, and waste even more time pursuing him into the current corridor.

Huebert ducked another glaive and laid down some suppressive fire with his carbine. Tor was scrounging furiously through Alex's backpack, reading scrolls upside down and tossing vials of whatever-the-fuck.

"Do you have anything useful!?"

Tor had quite a few responses to that, none especially helpful or polite, but all he had in his hands was a stick of charcoal. The lights overhead guttered in a way something that wasn't a candle shouldnt've, which drew Tor's attention to the way the soot on his hands sparkled blue in the mana-induced power surge. Not keen to get back in stave-range while still short on fuel, the Telpori-Hal tried to look busy by sketching one of the symbols on a scroll.

The floor froze. Dorukomets stumbled, and Tor took the chance to skid past (to the graunching tune of chainmail on ice) and flank the bastard. Huebert caught the next stave with a bare hand and a grimace, shoving back and sending Dorukomets slipping. Tor leapt for the Gauntlet, a shard of whatever had messed up Tykidu's wing gripped in his teeth, but was sent flying again by Dorukomets' fist. Huebert lost his footing wrestling a downed Dorukomets for the stave, but managed to kick him in the knee without enough force to dislocate something.

"Enough! I, SIR DORUKOMETS, must find Velobo Calidad! I must-"

Tor punched him in the helmet, probably breaking a couple bones in the Telpori-Hal's fist but knocking it around and disrupting his sight. Dorukomets wrenched the stave from Huebert's hands and struggled to his feet, whipping a spear around for Huebert to stare down with one hand, and twisting his helmet back around with another.

"The - the gall of you fiends - to think, even with such cowardly tactics, that you could ever stand up to me, SIR-"

"Just, shut up," Tor groaned, shooting Dorukomets in the dislocated knee and snatching up the crystal. Huebert yanked the spear in his face, which was being held by one Gauntleted hand, which Tor more or less caromed into as he skidded across the frozen floor on his knees and jammed the crystal under a bronzed knuckle. He rammed it in deeper with the butt of the laser pistol, which discharged into the ceiling@and also backfired, burning Tor's hands but driving the Shard of Distortion into the Gauntlet. Dorukomets literally punched him out of the way and into the ceiling, and Tor figured that as good a time to regenerate as any. A couple of scrolls he'd pocketed ignited and spewed lightning everywhere, which was all very useful because Ursus had just ripped out the Core and the lights had finally died.

Dorukomets looked at Tor, looked at Huebert, then looked at the Gauntlet; it was making increasingly desperate ratchety noises that started small but were quickly audible over the sound of Ruinam's bottom dropping out. The knight turned to retreat, buckling a bit on his injured leg. Huebert snarled, shot him with the carbine in the back of said leg, and charged, finally unhooking the plasma thrower.

Tor rejoined proceedings with a rather wobbly splish, on account of the melted floor and Ruinam's slow adjustment to terminal velocity. "Huebert?"

"Sup," replied a familiar voice, further up the now pitch-black hallway. A flare shwwwwked into existence, tossing feeble light upon the smoke. "I got him. Can't say it feels worth it."

Tor didn't say anything.


Jetsam was falling, but vertigo persisted - that sense of unreality he got when things got bad enough for the worlds to start to turn. It was the anticipation he hated more than the dying, this time manacled to and outshouted by enchantment-induced panic. He couldn't fail Ursus. He had to save himself. He was going to die.

Velobo was falling, his yells snatched by the air whistling by and utterly failing to reach Jetsam. He hadn't thought as far ahead as Jetsam to matters of the ground; in his eternal optimism he knew something would work out. What TinTen had been doing with that evil witch Velobo had no clue, they'd have plenty of time to figure things out after more pressing issues were handled. The dracodactyl raised its head, heronlike neck struggling against the slipstream. He saw Velobo, struggling to make headway, and something clicked. He struggled his good wing open, slowing his descent enough for the Plazmuth to close the gap and dive into his arms.

Jetsam gurgled something, gently but firmly reorienting the cube so the two were face to face. "Jetsam," Velobo had to yell, "it's going to be ok. You'll be-"

The wind whipped the first mouthful of venom off-centre. It burned his claws and missed the left side of Velobo's front face, which just hurt Jetsam worse with its look of shock. He lunged, sunk his teeth in so Velobo's expression wasn't boring into his brain, tried not think about the screams and the pain and whatever was yielding slowly - too slowly - taking too far godawful long to crush and break and stop screaming - to his jaws.

It was going to be ok. Please, please, please, let everything be ok.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
"Well done, everyone. You did an even better job than I expected."

The Fool glanced at the contestants, now gathered in his sanctum once more, then glanced through a dimensional window at the still-falling Flux Core. Or rather, the Flux Core that would have still been falling if everything hadn't been frozen in place.

"I'm sure you're all eager to find out what happens next, but I'm afraid your roles in this story are over. No, you're about to take part in a new one."

The Fool waved his scepter, and in the space of an instant, the surroundings changed to a grand city, blanketed by a gloomy sky.

"I'm sure you've all given some thought to what happens when you die, especially considering most of you will be dealing with it sooner rather than later."

The Fool raised his hand slightly, and the still city began moving once again. The contestants, still paralyzed, could only watch as the citizens began crowding around them. Some were nothing but bone, others had rotting flesh, and still others floated through the streets as though no one else was there.

"Well, for the people of this city, death is only the beginning of a new life. There's no one story for how they ended up this way; there are as many stories as there are people. Some changed by their own efforts, others only avoided the grave by chance. But whatever the reason, they all have one thing in common."

The Fool began drawing on the ground with his scepter, and forced everyone's eyes towards it. The image of a mob with pitchforks and torches appeared, and was soon accompanied by the image of an assortment of frightened undead creatures.

"The living feared them. Despised them. Drove them away. And so, in hopes of leading a more normal unlife, they made a new home for themselves - this place."

The Fool tapped the ground twice. The city froze again, and the images vanished. He turned everyone's gaze towards him and raised his hand.

"Welcome to the City of the Dead."

With that, the Fool snapped his fingers, and scattered the contestants through the city.

RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
Saint Scofflaw--he was resigned, he’d decided, to the fact that the name had stuck, for purposes of this battle--swore in every language he knew:




Some sort of covenant had been broken. There was a yin and yang he’d been struggling to preserve--team up with the heroes, betray them, align oneself with a greater evil, betray them, status quo uneasily restored, dignity salvaged, “someday they will all pay,” go out drinking, repeat. Unfortunately, his insurrection against Midday had led to the whole damn station dropping out of the sky, and (evidently) someone dying; this negated the brownie points Scofflaw had intended to score in order to restore himself to a state of ambiguity after the whole mass-mind-control thing.

In other words, he was off his game. This was unusual. He had his theories as to why, theories that had been apparently corroborated by his encounters with the science-curators in the closing minutes of the previous rounds.

The new data raised the stakes in a way that frightened and aroused the Saint. The opportunities associated with the battle were greater than he had realized. He looked around. The city--O brave new world that has such zombies on’t!--stretched flat and reeking before him like a piece of roadkill. The City of the Dead was suffering a crisis of genre. Those few buildings which had not been built to appear very old had been built to appear very new--a few rows of solar panels connected by stripped copper wire struggled to find purchase amidst a canopy of marble columns, granite battlements, modernist statements in sandstone. The few grey-skinned adolescents marching the cobblestones gave off the impression that they were anarchically violating an agreed-upon siesta. The City of the Dead rested in peace.

Scofflaw tried to make himself look dead and realized he was doing a pretty good job of it without much effort. He wondered if anybody here sold coffee. Or food. Certainly some of these people indulged in some manner of metabolism, but he never ate raw brains without white wine or drank human blood without vanilla Oreo’s to dip them in. He was far too hungry and particular to be penniless and marginalized in a strange city that he wasn’t in complete control of.

He recited a special mantra to dispel the part of his mind that creates schemes (“footjobs,” in case you really needed to know that) and took a step back, remembering about butterflies and assorted what-happened-last-times. Megalomania later. Microlomania now. He needed to take things slowly and carefully. Gather reconnaisance. Build up contacts. Not get ousted as a living being and killed and eaten. This required tiny plans. More agendas than plans, really. Checklists. Little adorable schemelings with the goal of achieving some manner of solid footing. No grand gestures, no swinging on chandeliers. Footjobs footjobs footjobs.

Scofflaw stood absolutely paralyzed for about three minutes before he came up with a scheme that was too good to pass up.

* * * * *


* * * * *

Scofflaw had grown into science. He was a man who took great pride into having filled out over the years at no significant loss of physical functionality. He wanted to inspire words like decadent and robust. Unfortunately, this put him in the minority in the scientific community.

The NSC agent had shrunk into science. He had taken on the form of the graduated cylinders and test tubes that constituted his workspace, the forceps, the scalpels, thin and precise things. He seemed to keep himself at a distance. His fingers were too long, his nose too long, his face too long. His spectacles were rectangles of the Golden Ratio, of course. Generally the impression was that here was a man who was overly aware of the fact that he was a volatile mixture of chemicals and that he perhaps had too many of some and too few of some others, and had come to physically embody this self-image. He inspired words like thyroid and hypoallergenic. His superior attitude was, in Scofflaw’s estimation, entirely unjustified.

“It has to be yours,” he insisted. “These simulacra may share your DNA, but they were generated through magical means in this universe and occupy the properties thereof. We’re looking to gather data on a subatomic level. A sort of multiversal DNA, if you will.”

“Every particle of my body is precious,” Scofflaw insisted, belching. He was not a morning person and a tad jet-lagged, so he was giving this nerd probably a harder time than he might have otherwise. At least, due to the nerd’s gravity stabilizer, he was no longer experiencing the sensation of dropping out of the sky--which was potentially a problem--so he didn’t have to worry about airsickness.

“A nice thing about transuniversal physics,” said the nerd, deftly pulling out a pair of tweezers, “Is that they aren’t magically dependent upon your consent.” He jabbed at Scofflaw’s arm, coming out with some dry skin and a little blood, which he then placed on a slide. “Unless they do. We’ll find out in a moment.”

Scofflaw tried to hide how impressed he was by the elegant device which the nerd passed over the tissue sample. It was white and gave off a faint blue glow, beeping seductively. “Steve Jobs much?” he grumbled. “If I had an omniversal physics analyzer, I’d at least make sure it was also a revolver.”

The nerd looked up at Scofflaw and blinked, and then after about five seconds said, “Oh, this is actually interesting,” without looking back down on the scanner. Then he said, “Ow! Give those back!” He was talking about his glasses.

“No,” growled Scofflaw. “Now tell me what’s ‘actually’ interesting about me, and be quick.”

The nerd gave a sigh indicating that he was not actually going to be quick. “Okay. Are you aware of the concept of entropy?”

Am I? You’re looking at the inventor of the Entropy Ray, I’ll have you--”

“Okay. Here’s what might be useful for you to understand. On about ninety eight and a half out of every hundred universes, entropy is a law of thermodynamics--it’s written into the universe. The entire universe. The accepted life cycle of a universe is that it trends toward chaos until it dies a ‘heat death.’ Your universe lacks this, and will perpetuate forever unless acted upon by an outside force. Now, I’m sure you’ve studied entropic universes in theory, but if I were to have my guess your multiversal forays prior to this battle have been to a small handful of other non-entropic universes, yes?”

Scofflaw tried to nod in a way that made him look like he wasn’t being given a lesson in elementary physics.

“Right. Because you’re looking for the ball bearings in a bag of popping corn, if that makes sense, and the popcorn’s energy signature is not only different, it’s constantly in flux. Now. You’re a man of science--” and you’re a eunuch of science you anemic tube of paste “--So surely you’re beginning to understand the corollaries here.”

“I think so.”

“Just so we’re clear--and speaking of clarity, if I could have my glasses back ow ow ow let go of my arm please thank you you can hold on to those for now--just so we’re clear, the intrinsic structure of a universe is mirrored all the way down through the hard sciences to the social sciences and the humanities. You’ve been living a non-entropic life. Whatever conflicts you’ve been engaged in will course-correct toward order, so you can’t really win or lose. Here, you can.

“Isn’t that interesting?” he concluded, smiling punchably. It took a while through his glasses-less fog for Professor Cameron to realize that the subject had already vanished. Ah, yes. This would be a “round transition.” He hit the one big, satisfying, multi-purpose button on his scanner and shouted “We’re through here! Pull me out!”

Back at the offices of the NSC Task Force on Case Designate GB-005, Cameron’s tea was already waiting. “Do we have a lock yet?”

“Just a couple minutes,” announced one of the interns.

Reliant on subsistence-wage labor or no, The GB-005 Task Force was one of only two special divisions devoted to “Grand Battle contestants” worthy of the designation “special,” the other one being that devoted to the Plazmuth.

“Which did we lose?” asked Cameron.

“GB-007,” chimed the interns.

“Fantastic.” Make that the only special division worthy of the designation “special.” “Send in a request for as much of their equipment as we can use.” Cameron was winning at science.

“In the meantime, we have a lock. Beaming the specs of GB-005’s home universe to your glasses now.”

“I, uh… I’ll look over.” Cameron hopped down the ramp to where the interns lived out an ergonomic nightmare over a couple of old tri-monitors.

The non-entropic universe sure did look like a non-entropic universe. “Point me to the things that aren’t boring,” he commanded his interns, feeling a flush of power.

“A couple crazy power signatures running around. Some on Earth, some that kinda hop back and forth to Earth now and then. And here, look--they’re all over the Non-Infringers’ files--classified, of course.”

“Of course.” Multiverse cops. Pain in Cameron’s ass. “So, the question becomes--do we make contact?”

The interns looked up all at once. “Are we… are we supposed to make contact?”

“We’re not supposed to not make contact. Look, interns.” Cameron made a gesture with his arms as though to precipitate a group hug--some of the interns rolled their chairs about six inches closer to him. “I want to be completely honest with you here. One: I’m angling for a promotion out of this. Two: I’m in the throes of weird multiverse-science and feel like taking dangerous risks. Three: If I get a promotion out of this I’ll do everything I can to drag you with me, if I also like you.”

“I’m in,” declared one of the interns. The others mostly nodded assent.

“Cool. Send out a couple lines directed at their earth. SOSes directed at altruistic or otherwise curious organizations. Hard-encrypted stuff that wouldn’t pick up on a normal newly-atomic Earth. See who bites.”

“On it.”

Cameron leaned back in his chair for about four minutes, feeling the science surge forth from his loins. He shouldn’t be having this much caffeine. It set his heart into palpitations especially when juxtaposed with the siren song of science-destiny. He took some vitamin supplements and then was informed that he had a hit. “Well, what are you waiting for, interns? Get me video!”

He had no idea what the man on the other side of the call was wearing, but it was very exciting. “Hello?” the man was repeating. “This is Doctor Macro here on the inside-outside of the moon. What is the nature and scale of your emergency?”

“Hello, Doctor Macro,” started Cameron nervously, trying to emulate the non-entropic man’s speech patterns. “I’m just a lowly scientist and I’ve stumbled into something bigger-than-all-of-us. Does the name Saint Scofflaw mean anything to you?”

Doctor Macro looked up with a start. Even from the other end of the multiverse Cameron felt threatened by his jaw.

“Hold the line one moment, if you will, my friend in science,” he cautioned. “I’m going to summon the Archetypes.

“Help is on the way.”

* * * * *

The junkie’s intestines were spilling out, which was a catastrophic threat to the floor. “Can someone bandage up this guy’s gut?” snapped the orderly impatiently.

Rebekshep gave him a glare. Yes, it was midday, no, nobody wanted to be here, but that was the nature of ERs, wasn’t it? If she met anyone who wanted to be here she would have to ask them to leave. She pulled some bandages off of her arm and proffered them to the orderly. The joke is that she’s a mummy, and the patient’s a zombie, because we’re back in the city of the dead.

Before Saint Scofflaw entered her life, Rebekshep’s biggest concern was that she had to swing by and lay out a sacrifice for her boyfriend’s cats before going home to sleep for three thousand years. Figuratively three thousand years, not actually. Even in the City of the Dead, people still find that kind of thing funny.

In runs a crazy hobo. The crazy hobo is Saint Scofflaw but Rebekshep doesn’t know that yet. “Somebody help me!” he’s screaming. Really hamming it up, this guy, but in a way that could be genuine. Crazy hobos have a unique tendency to melodramatize their very real suffering.

She left the zombie to the orderly and took his arm. He was warm. Very warm. That was a bad sign. “Calm down, mister,” she said in her nursiest voice. “What’s the problem?”

“I woke up, and-- and my heart--” Keep in mind this is Saint Scofflaw so everything he’s saying is a lie. “Well, you can feel, can’t you? You can all see.

“I just woke up and I was alive,” he bellowed, weeping. And then repeated, for good measure:

“Somebody please help me!”
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
The still-lit flare clattered to the ground and rolled a few inches before it got caught on one of the uniformly-uneven cobblestones that floored the entire alley. Huebert followed it a few moments later, sliding down onto his haunches with his back against the elegant gothic mausoleum behind him (elegant that is until you noticed all the cornices and gargoyles and wrought-iron were cheap plaster and plastic). One massive hand covered his face, and he groaned at no-one and nothing in particular.

"Why is everything we do anymore such a waste?"

There was the little slithering noise he associated with TinTen moving around, but nothing else.

"I mean, it was bad enough that once we finally started to get some kind of organized resistance going, finally started looking like we really had a chance of dealing with the fucking Duchess, this whole... thing happened."

Slow rebreather noises. No more slithering.

"But even here we can't do anything that has any lasting impact! That whole order plant thing got destroyed, that entire battlefield got nuked or whatever because we weren't fast enough, and now I can't even help those people in the last place save their world. I think that's what was happening anyway. I dunno, I guess I just don't like seeing innocent people hurt."

Still no response, but TinTen was pretty reserved at the best of times.

"I guess I never even really thought about why I was bothering, really. It just seemed like I had to. I was there, I had to help. But I couldn't, couldn't help any of them. Just busted stuff up after things got too bad to save. Maybe if I hadn't wasted so much time on things like that, I dunno, we might've had a better chance of actually escaping this thing, or taking out Scofflaw, or something."

The city was as quiet as the grave, but it didn't really occur to Huebert how unfunny that was.

"Am I really supposed to ignore people just so we can save ourselves, though? That feels wrong. But if we keep getting put places where we can't do any good, maybe it's just wasted effort. Heh, not that this one sounded like it was going to need a whole lot of saving. Bunch of zombies or whatever? That's pretty cut and dry, I've gotta figure."

It also didn't occur to him how slowly and quietly the rebreather was puffing.

"Do you think the Fool keeps putting us places he knows we're going to waste time and resources fighting each other and the people in the world so we don't gang up on him? Are we playing right into his hands, or am I giving him too much credit and we're just a bunch of ineffective idiots?"

The general silence didn't break.

"Come on, 'Ten, you've gotta say something at some point. I'm not interrupting any of your mystical musings, am I?"


He finally looked up. He shouted and jumped to his feet.

"Oh, fuck me, no, no no no. What the hell happened to you? Dammit, why didn't you say something?"

A shaking tendril gestured to the extensive burn wounds near and around TinTen's mouth and gillflaps.

"Fucking hell!"

Huebert's hands flew across his jumpsuit, patting it down for any medical supplies he might have been carrying, first aid creams, bandages, anything. He'd never had to, though, they'd always had a Hiver for that. A couple of syringes of stimulant and an analgesic were all he found.

TinTen carefully pulled his coat open. "Second... pocket..."

Huebert pounced, trying to delicately remove the contents without moving his friend at all, without touching his seared flesh, without probably crushing his organs with his huge stupid shovelhands. He was rewarded with more than a few winces and a few increasingly-weak jerks and a jar of something green and astringent-smelling.

"What do I do with it?"

Pain and goggles and the struggle to stay focused were all between the man and the Meipi's expression, but it still managed to convey what a ridiculous question that was. He unscrewed it, dipping two fingers into whatever was inside. He could already feel it making his fingertips tingle then go numb. It felt like ice and fire and drugs. Hesitatingly, he applied a dollop to the edges of the burned areas; TinTen moaned gently, but managed to nod a bit.

The work of applying the cream was slow and ginger and nerve-wracking, but it got done with a minimum of fuss and groaning. Every stroke, Huebert was terrified he was going to put a finger through the poor bastard's flesh, or rub it in too hard and peel off a huge section of skin, or just plain watch his friend die in front of him while he couldn't do anything about it because he was too big and too stupid and just a hired gun with immaculate biceps instead of something useful like a medic. Or even one of those fucking biopaths. He'd gladly shill out to a swindling psion right now if one were around that could fix this. But none of that happened. The ointment was applied and TinTen's breathing gradually became more regular and less labored.

Huebert sat back. "So, is this going to cure you, or what?"

"Find... doctor." TinTen's eyes were gradually sliding shut, his limbs going limper than usual.

"No! Dammit, Naamxe, you stay conscious! Don't you fucking dare pass out and leave me to take care of this!"

The squid didn't listen. Huebert reached for him, thought better of it and pulled back, then thought better of thinking better of it. As gently and carefully as he could, hoping against hope he wasn't making things worse, he picked TinTen up and slowly stood up. After several moments of panicked thought, he dropped into a loping dash, moving as quickly as he could without jostling his burden. It might have looked funny if it weren't a matter of life and death.

Not knowing where he was going, not thinking about where he was, all the Fool's descriptions falling out of his mind, he ran out of the alley shouting.

"Help! Someone help! I need a medic!"


It could be pretty dull, being a banshee in the City of the Dead.

But then, that was the problem, wasn't it? Everyone seemed to feel like that at some level, especially the ones that hadn't been around when the City had been founded. Like they'd traded part of themselves for security and safety. Lost their identities. Everyone seemed to have a hole in them they couldn't fill because some calling of their very nature had gotten locked away when they'd sealed the gates of the necropolis. Or she assumed that's how everyone felt. She sure did. Sometimes.

But here she was now, ignoring it like she always did (except on the occasional Saturday night she let herself get drunk and moody and go try screaming on rooftops. It just made her feel stupid instead of fulfilled). Tapping out a story she didn't care about and suspected nobody else cared about either about the city council's economic policies and how they were going to affect the price of blood. It was safe, secure, and banal. Just like everything else in her unlife. She'd even gotten into journalism in the first place on the expectation it'd put her on the front lines of whatever exciting things did manage to happen in the city, but there never seemed to actually be any. For a city filled with literal monsters, some of whom craved flesh or souls, it was all so... stable. Barely even any interesting murders.

She sighed and tried to put it out of her mind. Talk about manufactured problems, right? 'oh, my death is so placid and I have enough money to live comfortably, won't something awful happen and sweep me up in it?' She sounded like one of those dumb kids that dream of the living apocalypse, sure they're going to be the one to survive it. She'd just gotten like this since Jessica had dumped her, anyway. All she needed to do was meet another nice banshee, get herself a girlfriend, and quit acting like a baby. It was just so hard to find other banshees in the city and ugh that was just an excuse and she needed to finish this story. Ugh. Uuuugh.

It wasn't until she noticed her editor staring at her, trying to emote confusion despite not having any flesh to do it with, that she realized those annoyed noises had actually started coming out of her mouth instead of staying confined to her whiny internal monologue. And that they kept getting louder and higher and it was really just one long noise and she couldn't stop. She tried to clamp her hands over her mouth but her body wasn't cooperating and she leaned back her head and screamed and screamed and kept screaming until she was out of breath and then it just got louder, fueled by some force stronger than lungs and more spiritual than mere noise. People around her pressed their hands over their ears, the windows were shaking, and her mug suddenly splintered, sending cold coffee rushing across her desk and papers and stopping just shy of her computer.

And then it stopped, but gradually, fading from a shriek to a shout to a shuddering sob. She was filled with so much sadness, grief at a loss she had no concept of. She began to cry in earnest, rather than just let the sob escape her mouth without her consent, and was finally silent. Thank Elesh. She let her head flop down to her desk, coffee immediately soaking into her hair.

Jimmy scuttled over to her desk, clattering the whole way. "What the hell was that all about?"

She didn't answer, too consumed with the sadness that had just decided to show up, and then too confused about where it had come from when it started to fade.

"Well? Look, you can talk about this if you want, but I'm really starting to think I need to send you home, have you see a counsellor or something before you come back."

She pulled herself upright, rubbing cream and tears out of her eyes and looking bizarrely, incongruously excited.

"No, no, don't you get it? I'm a banshee!"

Her editor sighed and laid a bony hand on her shoulder. "Yeah, I know, we all go through this when we're young, but this isn't really an appropriate place to work out your identity issues. Especially so loudly. We've all got jobs to do."

"No, look. I mean, someone's going to die."

He clicked his teeth and tilted his skull. "Well, yes, people die all the time. But an obituary page is a much better way to–"

"No, no, shut up. I mean actually die." At this point, she was stuffing things into her bag and slinging it over her shoulder, a manic gleam in her eyes.

"What, as in–"

"Yes. Die. Like, become dead. After being alive. Alive!"

She grabbed Jimmy by his clavicle and shook him. "Someone in the city is alive, and they're going to die. This is huge! A living person, near enough for me to feel them getting close to the threshold."

Without waiting for a response, she dashed off. "And I'm going to find out why."
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
As anyone who's been around long enough to shake the dust off could tell you, the liches run this town.

What, because they're necromancers? Commanding the legions of undead is their thing? That's rude, very misinformed, and quite the inadvisable opinion to knock about in corpsely company. How could anyone think a populace would tolerate leaders who performed regular mass mind control?

Jetsam just bared his teeth in response, though this was more due to his not having lips.

"If anything," continued Dr. Octavius, clicking about their office on steel high heels (spot-welded to her own heel bones), "our propensity to lead arises from a lich's greater agency in the creation of its unlife. Most souls in this city sprung up in the wake of mediums, necromancers, always on someone else's terms." The lich was paying her guest little attention, considering she'd caught him raiding what had been a nicely-concealed jewelry cabinet. A quick chat with the distressed and confused lich eventually convinced her he wasn't a threat, though she'd need to figure some way to pay for the broken window. Jetsam just toyed with a ring most the while, attached to a rib with a length of chain. It was blackened silver, inset with a large cushion-cut onyx.

So, paperwork and giving this fresh body a crash course in lich-hood. Atlas Octavius, hospital administrator, sticking post-its over everything, and printing out more forms to stick more post-its upon. She was the kind of lich to constructively channel her latent megalomania rather than reject it outright, the result of which was one of the world's best public hospitals being a place that had never saved a life. Actually, blame her lack of high-strung attitude on the fact even the ER was pleasantly paced for a major city hospital. Hard to call it an emergency if you could mop up the blood, put it through the wash, then pump it back in after the patient had time to call into work sick and fill out all the paperwork.

Back in the office, Atlas' workspace was a hodgepodge of generic office cabinets (tidy) and respectable if mismatched furniture. A little plaque underneath a faux-Baroque painting of the hospital's founder, Lord van Utrecht, could be pressed to open a wall-set drawer with a decent collection of amulets, rings, and an emerald-studded tiara which was Dr. Octavius' phylactery. The drawer was rigged, of course, and Atlas had broken her "No magic at work" rule and teleported on in there.

"Of course, we canvass for anyone interested in local politics - proportional representation I'm certainly behind, never mind the naysaying of Chancellor L'écuyer and his ilk - but they too often lack the zeal for it like we do, you see?"

Jetsam did see, in the passive sense to be distinguished from looking. He was more focused on figuring out an escape route out of the hospital, and necropolitics didn't seem all that relevant to his immediate predicament. "LISTEN," he boomed with a part of him that certainly wasn't his vocal tract, before stopping out of surprise. Dr. Octavius waited politely. "I- I- GODDAMNIT-"

"Try project from your mastoid portion," offered the lich, tapping the back of her own skull. "It helps to stop thinking of the chest as the source."

Jetsam tried taking a deep breath, found he couldn't do that either, then leaned forward and snatched pen and paper off Dr. Octavius' desk. The crackling fire in her right eye socket spat out a thin quiver of electricity in the shape of an arched eyebrow. It was gone by the time Jetsam stuffed a note in her hand, though the urge to bring it back as she read was there.

"Well, you're keen," she chuckled. "I don't quite understand about the ring, though, nobody wears them on their fingers anymore, not since the late Chancellor Morrigan-"

"I DON'T WANT any place in your city's politics," Jetsam pre-empted, his metacarpals making a protective grab for the ring. "And I don't want to wear this, I want someone who can take my soul out of it and put it back in ME."

Atlas looked up from the depths of a filing cabinet. Jetsam had his hands clamped over his mouth, still figuring out volume control. If she still had muscles on her face, she wouldn't have gone so far as to look disgusted, but definitely judgmental. "you want to be your own phylactery?"

Jetsam shrugged, realised he'd stood up at some point, and sat back down again. "Listen, lady. Let me start by saying thanks for not interrogating me about my life story-"

"Don't mention it," leered Dr. Octavius in what was meant to be a friendly expression, trying to make heads or tails of a misfiled x-ray. "We liches deal with enough heckling from both sides of the veil, the least we can do is look out for each other."

"-but I've had shitty experiences with detachable pieces of self, so. I didn't mean to be a lich, I don't care if demoting myself to walking skeleton is social suicide. Trust me, I'll be happier that way."

The hospital administrator tossed the x-ray on her desk, gave Jetsam an incredulous look, and made a noise like a sigh. "I can refer you to L'écuyer. He's chancellor of Rigorous Mortus College; if anyone can do it it'll be someone in his necroethics department. At which point you, Lord Jetsam, would owe me a favour. Lich law."

The traveler flinched at the title. "I'M NOT- I'm not interested. In machinations with you- your lot." He tried to add a desperate tone to his voice; it came out as the shared wail of a dozen fettered souls instead. "Please. Just help me with the ring and then I'll go find a quiet desk job. You'll never hear from me again."

Dr. Atlas Octavius, chief administrator and chief of staff (liches need a lot of mental stimulation, ok) summarily ignored Jetsam, scrawling a missive to L'écuyer and sending it off with a hwooooo of ghostly flame. She raised a spectral fire-brow at her fellow lich, a polite warning to not disagree, then went and fetched her coat. Warcloak. Wearing corpse-clothing's hard if you don't have the musculature, damnit. Cut a lady some slack.

"Lunch," she explained, pulling a spare cloak out of her desk for Jetsam and tossing it in his nonplussed direction.

"Do we even eat?"

Dr. Octavius chuckled, a professional little noise. "Jetsam, you're clearly the kind of man who won't believe anything he's told until he sees it for himself. Skeleton eye sockets don't glow with infernal fire. You wouldn't survive a day in this town, and I always spend my lunch hour at Burnt Offerings."

"I really don't think-"

"It's quarter to. Lunch."
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
”Does that hurt?”

The patient screamed in affirmation. Doctor Vong tossed the cleaver aside and picked up the stubby finger, offering it to one of the interns. “It’s still twitching,” he said. “Are both the parts alive, or only the part that houses the consciousness?”

“I think neither of them are alive now,” offered another intern. “Life is defined by homeostasis, and if he’s—“ she flipped through a dusty medical dictionary “—‘Bleeding to death,’ he’s not homeostatic. Because of the deficit of blood.”

“Hmm. That’s a temporary fix at best, yes? Eventually the volume of blood inside and outside the body will reach an equilibrium and stasis will be restored.” Vong plopped the finger back onto the stump. “Someone, er, sew that back on. I admit I’m completely out of my element.” The floating surgical mask that the interns typically took to represent the doctor’s center of consciousness sagged sadly and began to drift awkwardly out of the room before being caught between the bandaged hands of Rebekshep, the nurse who had followed the patient up from the E.R.

“No medical history on record for an ‘Ekh Selsi Orr,’” she told the impotently flapping white mask, “But if he is—was—a lich as he claims, that’s to be expected. They don’t have a lot of health problems and tend to keep their personal records expunged as a matter of course.”

“Thank you, nurse,” said Vong curtly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other patients to—“ The patient screamed again as an intern jabbed a needle through his truncated knuckle. Vong sighed. “The case, for all its sensationalism, does not seem to be urgent.”

“He’s afraid he’s going to catch it,” shouted another intern, across the room.

“I don’t have all the information at this time,” snapped Dr. Vong, “And have already formally recommended complete quarantine procedure. Vacuum-sealed, if that works.”

“I think he needs a continually nitrogen-replenished environment,” claimed the intern with the dictionary. “No, wait—“

“Failing quarantine procedure, I’m going to the board,” said Vong, “To refer him to a corporeologist, who will be better equipped to manage this one’s… parts.” He pulled his mask out of Rebekshep’s grasp and threw his presence down the hall, flickering the lights and rattling errant surgical tools as he passed.

Rebekshep shooed the interns out and stood over the patient. She bandaged his hastily-reattached finger with some gauze off of her forearm and applied pressure until he stopped screaming.

“Water,” he croaked after a few minutes.

Rebekshep ran off and returned with a glass of water, which she placed near his intact hand. He drank it down in a gulp. “Thank you, nurse,” he said.

“Think nothing of it.” She pulled a chair up to his bed. “Mr. Orr, may I ask you a question?”

“Of course. You asked several in the E.R.”

“A personal question.”

“Again, you’ve already—”

“A question personal to me.”

“There we go. Given that you may have saved my finger, I’d say you’re entitled.”

Rebekshep shifted nervously in her chair, face inscrutable beneath her bandages. “What’s it like?”

“Being alive?” asked the patient.


“It’s—” the patient stroked his beard. “That’s a very complicated question. I think it may be different for other people but for me—there’s this feeling like I can only fit so much love inside of me, or so much suffering, like a container bound to explode under pressure. But the love and the suffering, and the happiness and the misery, just keeps building up, side by side, and all that happens is you sort of stretch out. Just keep stretching and stretching and growing and growing. And you try to let a little air out with, I don’t know… violent anger, or fleeting hope, or drugs, but at the same time you have this feeling that if you just keep growing and changing and dealing with the pressure you’ll grow into some perfect version of yourself, like some moment of ascension, but

The patient craned his neck over to look at Rebekshep and smiled, a wide and exertive smile that transformed his face into something grotesque and ineffably charismatic. Then the face began to shake like a building about to collapse, and then it opened up into a guffawing, throaty, teary-eyed, wild yet somehow powerful laughter.

“Bwa ha ha Scofflaw ha ha Scofflaw ha haha! Okay okay okay Scofflaw okayokay. On your own terms, then. To be alive as opposed to merely existing is… well, there’s the heart, but you get used to that. It’s the breathing that gets me. It doesn’t stop. And it just—“ (he took a heaving gasp to demonstrate) “It rattles your whole body. Every time. I never get bored of it. Anyway, you were alive once, you would know.”

Rebekshep shrugged. “That was a long time ago. What memories I had I lost in Hurricane Lethe.”

“Ah, yes. That… debacle.”

“The going theory around the floor is that you caught alive doing some sort of sex thing. Is that true?”

“I could not say. I…” (There was a note of theatricality in the patient’s tone here that Rebekshep could not place) “…Am sexually active.”

Rebekshep glanced at the door, then back to the patient. “I’ve heard stories and—you don’t have to lie. Is this some sort of underground fetish thing?”

“I don’t—” Scofflaw looked up at the nurse leaning over his bed, bandaged hands on his arm. He glanced back up at her and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know. Is it?”

The nurse stood up and backed away awkwardly. “There are, you know, a lot of books. That get passed around the nursing pool. The women. Sort of a bookclub. ‘Romance’ novels.” (She offered tiny, insecure air quotes at the level of her waist). “Sort of alternative stuff. I don’t think you’ll have heard of any of them. Heart’s Beating. The Living Daylights. Vital Fluids. Confessions of a Well-Spanked Vivophile.”

“They don’t ring a bell,” admitted Scofflaw, “But I’m starting to see a pattern.”

“Anyway. There are a lot of these and I guess there are a lot of people reading them, even if most of them talk about it. But it’s just fantasy. I think people are more comfortable thinking about these things knowing that there’s no opportunity to act on their desires.”

She closed the door to Scofflaw’s room. “Most people,” she added, “Wouldn’t be willing to take it all the way.”

Scofflaw eyed up and down the shape that could be a passable (albeit tightly bound) hourglass figure or a carefully-concealed rotting skeleton. He sat up on the bed, careful not to put any weight on the reattached finger. “Might I reciprocate the personal question?”

“Be my guest.”

“What’s the personal care routine of a mummy like? Do the wrappings ever, mmmm, come off?”

A shift beneath the bandages on her head that was probably a smile, either with lips or without lips. “Mmm. They do. The living culture I stem from were masters of mummification. They could preserve a body in perfect condition—from the outside—indefinitely.”

“That’s quite some process. One I’m sure they reserved for those bodies most deserving of preservation.”

The nurse shrugged. “I’ve never seen another mummy like me here before. And I still have to be careful. Once the wrappings come off, they have to be replaced within about half an hour before the decay process begins.”

“Hmm. That’s workable.”

“Time enough for a quick shower in my own personal blend of oils, fragrances and preservatives.”

“Which I’m sure is imperative after eight hours getting entrailed on by those ‘Infected’ kids in the ER.”

The mummy stumbled a little in her slow, seductive sashay towards Scofflaw’s bed. “Then I rewrap. The first, protective layer takes about ten minutes, and then I roll up some extra layers for warmth and emergency medical supplies, and make myself a pocket or two to keep some cash in. By the end of my shift, my hands and forearms are usually back down to the base layer.”

She held out her hands. Scofflaw placed his good hand over her ring finger, caressing it as he would a roll of tape, and found the seam. “May I?” he asked, looking up into where he assumed her eyes still were.

She nodded. “I’m Rebekshep, by the way.”

“You can call me Selsi.” He began to unwrap her, exposing a perfectly preserved finger sporting a nail painted the delicate violet-blue of a water lily. “You are… a marvelous piece of work, Rebekshep.”

“I know I am,” she agreed. “Plus enough of my internal organs have been scratched out that I only weigh around a hundred pounds, which makes all the other nurses jealous. But they don’t understand. I’m empty inside.”

“I can fix that,” moaned Scofflaw, bending to kiss her exposed finger. She tasted like ashes and formaldehyde. His finger fell off of his hand and dangled above the bed by a thread, like a marionette.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” cried Rebekshep, rushing to reexamine the wound. “These interns and their sewing, I swear.” She wrapped her finger back up and went to tend to the wound.

Scofflaw grunted in pain as a needle punctured his skin yet again. “You know, Rebekshep,” he said mournfully. “Breathing’s only a part of it. There are aspects to living that I don’t think—ah!—you’d like at all. The constant pain. The weight of these useless organs. And oh, I miss my phylactery. There’s a story I—och! that hurts—heard once about a creature called a phoenix. That generates life and fire inside of itself. And every time it stops living, it bursts into flame and lives again from the ashes. No matter what. It’s even said that the tears of the phoenix—maybe all of its bodily fluids, who knows, ‘tears’ sounds more romantic—could bring life to others.”

Rebekshep nodded absently. “I don’t get it,” she said. “I’m trying to put you back like you were, but you won’t fit back together.”

“It’s because of entropy,” explained Scofflaw gloomily. “A side effect of life here. Hey!” He snapped his fingers. “You know what? I had a boyfriend a while back who would periodically burst into flame. I never thought much of it at the time—it was a scene where a lot of people were doing things like that, calling it art—but who knows. That might be where I got this.”

Rebekshep didn’t respond. “Nurse?” Scofflaw asked politely.

“I’m sorry,” said the mummy. “It’s just… your hand was so beautiful but I can’t fix it.” She tore off his finger and held it up to him. “See?”

“That’s alright,” Scofflaw groaned through the pain. “But I think you’d better call in one of my doctors. I’ve had a breakthrough while you apparently weren’t listening to me.”

“Okay,” sniffed Rebekshep. She tucked the finger into her pocket and left the room. A skeleton in a white coat walked by with the arrogance she commonly associated with doctors. She tapped on his clavicle. “Doctor? The patient with the, er, L – I – F – E problem needs help that… that I can’t give him.”

The skeleton turned to her and smiled. Or he wasn’t smiling, he just looked like that all the time. “He can wait,” he rattled. “I’m on my way to the other one.”

Other one?”

Two more life cases,” confirmed the doctor with a peace sign. “And it looks like one of them’s going to die! What a day for medicine!”

And with a [Image: tumblr_n5yigoYz7M1r1g8zro7_250.gif] he ran off down the hallway and left Rebekshep alone.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)

A hearse, at least, Jetsam thought. A Victorian carriage.

Anything less incongruous unnerving in dissonant normality than this.

The offending silver hatchback - driverless, in decent condition (reupholstered, even) other than some water damage, changing gears in hot-headed cliff-clearing teenage time to the classic rock-esque noise on the car radio) was about as far as you could get from "thematically appropriate", not that the rest of the city seemed willing to meet Jetsam's expectations.

Dr. Octavius, for all her aristocratic trappings, didn't seem to mind the transport. One of her toe-bones clicked in time to the music, and she seemed to find amusement in her companion's flailing whenever their ride rounded a corner too fast.

"Thank you, Michael," said Atlas, sitting contrastingly prim and proper as they screeched up to their destination. The doors sprung open and Jetsam's seatbelt almost took his wrist off as it snaked back into place. "I'll be the usual forty-five minutes." She gave Jetsam a pointed look to get out of the car, then fished currency from her wallet and left it in a tray full of coins beside the gearstick. The hatchback's engine roared in appreciation.

"Michael's a very nice boy," Atlas had explained, once "Michael" drifted off out of sight (though not out of earshot) around a corner. "Isn't one to gossip, and the longer I can keep tabs on who knows you're in town, the better."

"He's a car," Jetsam said weakly, the hypocrisy of his protest forcing him to trail off. Atlas shrugged.

"We're beings of 'non-discrete negative energy', legally speaking, and Michael's a poltergeist. I don't see why there's any difference between your calling yourself a lich and Michael calling himself a car."

"Forget it," growled Jetsam. The offhand comment about keeping tabs had him glancing down alleyways, alert for the others. "Can we just get inside and-"

"Help! Someone help! I need a medic!"


"Four lifesigns detected on ultra-wideband scan. Five hundred-plus unidentified energy signatures detected. Zero lifesigns detected corresponding to GB-007."

Shit. Firmly crushing the guilt, Tengeri requested another scan.

"Scanning for energy signatures resembling GB-007-M-1."

She resisted the urge to break something, but the panic she felt was a vicious throwback to the start of this battle. She'd convinced Cendil she couldn't return home yet, and she'd almost convinced herself, but it was clear she still had no idea what she was doing.

Transcripts trickled past one trio of eyes, the other watching the flickers of motion beyond the textured-glass inset in the storeroom door. Velobo had gone with a task force to retrieve Jetsam and (if necessary) dispatch the bear. The task force had been separated from the pair when the bottom of Ruinam destabilised, and... then what? She couldn't see it in Jetsam to engage in heroics, perhaps both of them had been crushed to death in the same place? Tengeri shuddered at her own line of thinking. How could two deaths be more palatable to her than one?

Oh, right. If Jetsam had survived, she'd have to find out from him what happened. The Leviath could already see how that conversation would go down, whether or not he'd actually- no. Stop

For the second time in about five minutes, a bell sounded, and Tengeri heard the crowds trundling past her hiding space fade, those strange energy signatures disappearing with them.

"Zero matches detected."

Dejected, Tengeri slipped out into the corridor, uncertain which way to go. Her sensors were getting disrupted by all of the strange unlifeforms, who she supposed must've been the dead the Fool had mentioned. The door at the end was of some handsome hardwood, unlike the more modern affairs along the hallway, and her scans showed it led to a large, mostly-empty space.

Beyond, it was all vaulted ceilings and high windows, vaguely cathedralic and closer to the Typhran style of architecture (of which she'd only seen the embassy on Levia). The halls' dimensions would've been comfortable, albeit still spacious enough to show you could afford to think and build big, for someone ten times the Leviath's size. The regular-sized furniture outside the adjoining- "Scan complete" -lecture halls, huh, they made no impact in this cavern of a hall. Fripperies and dust in the corners of a giant's manor. Nothing to fear, until the giant deigned to clean.

Tengeri balked for just a moment, before reminding herself she had bigger gods to kill. In some tiny defiance, she swam up the middle of that cavernous hall, dead centre and without apology. Double doors, again, the proportions better suited to Kryesan morphology than hers or a human's, which someone had thought to leave half-open. The dim glow of an overcast midday drew Tengeri out into a courtyard. Something much, much larger than a Kryesan was sitting out there, reading a book; or, at least, giving that impression from the book hovering in front of its face.

It was a dragon, flayed down to scaled skin and bone, a too-large Kryesan in all respects but the batlike wings folded to its sides. Without anything on Tengeri's scans, it had startled her badly, but more for its macabre form than out of fear for her safety. The reptilian resemblance unnerved her more than anything, but it really only registered as an ostentatiously nightmarish art piece. She supposed, for the city's inhabitants, it was as normal an aesthetic as you could expect.

"May I help you?" asked someone in her head. Tengeri frowned, thinking her HUD's voice modulator was on the blink, when her scanners blazed a warning. An unliving energy signature, blooming into the space ahead like a haze of blood in the sea. The certainly-not-a-statue's eyeless sockets spat a spark of electricity, which arced down the dragon's spine.

Tengeri considered fleeing, but the book snapped shut with a tone of finality. She watched it plummet to a stack at the dragon's feet, something invisible slowing its fall at the last second to rest it gently on the pile. The monster cricked its neck, staring her down.

"Yes, actually." Tengeri managed, before trying to raise her voice some. "My name is Doctor Tengeri Nyoka. I've been transported to your city with four, possibly five others, in a fight to the death."

She was expecting some disbelief on the monster's part, but it merely lowered its head and motioned with a foreclaw as though hard of hearing. "Go on."

"Only one among us poses any real danger to the city, a human male named Scofflaw. The only other would, perhaps, be Jetsam, a shapeshifter. He's confused and uncooperative, but he's not actively trying to sabotage us like Scofflaw." If he's alive. Tengeri heard a swish behind her, and spun about, but it was just the dragon's tailbones readjusting. When she looked up again, the beast's eyes sparkled with an infernal interest you just knew you shouldn't get mixed up in. "I need to confront the Fool, the being responsible for this battle, and bring an end to this before anyone else is killed." The dragon clacked its teeth at that, a derisive chuckle-substitute, but Tengeri didn't notice.

"I'd appreciate any help in finding the other contestants and making sure they're safe. The Fool said the locals might fear the living, and none of us bar Scofflaw would want to incite panic. Also, and this may be a stretch, but if you know of anyone researching the existence of other universes, I have to find them."

"Another universe," intoned the dragon. Tengeri's HUD gave a cautionary trill, as several intangible waves washed about her. The thing had sensors of its own, perhaps? It lowered its head, the fire in its eye sockets crackling levelly at the Leviath. "To have brought you to this city. This 'Fool' - what incomprehensible power does he hold?" With a fetid rush of air, the dragon rose to its full height, wings unfurling. "No immediate matter. I'll send a missive to, what's her name, head of the Extraplanar Studies department. She, if anyone, would have a postdoctoral to interest you."


A ghoul waved from across the courtyard, brandishing an envelope. He mostly stared at at Tengeri as he approached, only remembering to shove his dangling jaw back up into place when the dragon motioned for the letter. It turned the envelope in its disproportionately large claws, before slicing it open and squinting (Tengeri assumed that's what its eye-flames were doing) at the fine print.

"Loki, was it?"

Lachlan, the ghoul, mumbled something incomprehensible, before remembering to tug his jaw down again. "Egh. Yeah, close enough."

"Do guide Dr. Nyoka here to Professor Hedley's department." Noting the slightly carnivorous look Tengeri was suffering, he added, "they're my guest here." And with a wave of a claw to banish his books to some unknownable dimension, the great skeleton rose to its haunches. "I shall check in on your progress at a later date, Doctor. I will make inquiries as to the whereabouts of your companions."

"Thank you. Chancellor...?"

"Lord-Chancellor Zerthier-Cerveau L'écuyer," nodded the dragon, nearly knocking the pair down as his wings hauled him into the air. "Good day, Doctor."


Jetsam didn't recognise the voice, though he could be excused for having lost all the fleshy parts of himself since he'd last got an earful of it. He didn't notice Huebert until he'd noticed Dr. Octavius noticing, by which point she was too distracted to read too much into his reaction.

"Oh, fucking-"

Atlas was already whipping out a pen-sized length of metal, drawn from her bolero sleeve with a swish and a clack as it telescoped into a doctor's pointer. It hummed between her fingers, twin sparks of necromantic energy leaping off her fingernails and swirling about the wand. An intangible wave swept over Jetsam, a wafting suggestibility that would've chilled him to the bone for a third damn time if he'd felt it. A ghost wailed in consternation, the sound breaking the initial stunned shock and dragging more monsters out into the street.

"Ugh, look at it dripping, someone's going to have to clean that up-"

"What the Styx is that thing?"

"Dude, there's like old ladies here, you can't just drop the a-bomb in public-"

"No way that's, y'know-"

"Uh-uh-UNDEAD!" screamed the ghost.

Huebert almost, but not quite, dropped TinTen to unhook the plasma projector. He instead swore, turned to retreat back up the alley, only to be cut off by a swiftly-rising palisade of (not-quite-tomb)stone.

The gawkers, drifting by curious design into an encircling crowd, parted smoothly for the lich doctor. Jetsam hung back, avoiding eye contact with anyone.

"Amvlýno. You said you need a medic?" The pointer in Atlas' hand twirled a slow circle, the caducean sparks struggling to hold their orbit about the silver. The hubbub faded, colors beyond the lich seeming to mute. Huebert took a step back.

"I- my friend." He tried to give her a better look, but his arms didn't quite seem to want to relinquish TinTen. Wand poised, the skeleton reached forward and took a step.

"I'm going to perform a contact spell," it declared, a fingerbone tracing the edges of the burn up TinTen's throat like fineprint. They found a place to press, "Zoiragi," hissed something cold and dank and beyond the physical confines of the skeleton before him. Huebert had no clue if TinTen was deader or better for it, but this rather horrifying excuse of a medical practitioner seemed satisfied. It pulled a slip of paper from its pelvis and waggled the pointer at it, before hwoomfing it (barely-legible scorch-scrawls and all) out of immediate existence.

"What species is it?"

It? "He's a Meipi." Atlas nodded, quietly glad she'd lost the facial musculature to betray a lack of confidence. Or excitement. This was all very new and exciting for her, and until she figured out how she felt about that it was best to stay professional.

"You'd qualify as a significant other. Extenuating circumstances and all." The lich fished out a bird skull from what would have been her cleavage once, its orbital sockets stoppered with wax. She crushed it underheel and lowered the isolating barrier, the hum of the crowd crashing into the alley like it had been all piled up and waiting. Ichor snaked out, incinerating whatever city filth stuck to the ground and preparing a sterile surface for teleportation. Atlas kept the crowd at bay with her pointer in one hand, the other extended back out to Huebert.

"Come on. I can't teleport you without consent."

Had TinTen been in less of a lich-induced hibernation, he might've objected to magic circles and sorcerous assistance. Huebert took the lich's hand, and the three vanished off the street with local spacetime's death-rattle.

Jetsam got a faceful of ash and negative energy as the missive unfurled from thin air. He'd already gotten the gist of the message by the time he'd finally caught it in his clumsy, ventilated skeleton-hands:

stay out of trouble.

Doable. Before the crowd could lose interest in a now-deserted alley, the lich slipped into a side-street of his own.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
I should mention I'm doing a post for this; it's just coming more piecemeal than the last couple.

Thank God for crash recovery tho
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
She'd been pounding the pavement for about an hour, and had gone from excited and elated to discouraged and confused by bits and pieces. The transition had been so gradual that she'd barely acknowledged it until her phone rang and jarred her roughly into the present. A chorus of xylophones told her what she already knew, and as much as she wanted to ignore the call, she couldn't really justify not talking to him. Not after how she'd left and how little she had to show for it.


"Where are you, Siobhan?"

"Give me a second." She wasn't actually sure, and this late in the afternoon there weren't many pedestrians around to question or businesses to stop in to. There would be soon, as the sun started to set, but not yet. She scuttled towards an intersection. "Uh, looks like… corner of Manchineel and Granite."

There was a clicking of teeth at the other end of the line. "Well, if nothing else, you've made good time. Where are you headed, anyway?"

"Well, er…" It was a difficult question to answer, since she'd only been sort of following a gut feeling that she'd only been half-consciously aware of. One that was getting steadily harder to feel. "Wherever the scoop takes me, Jimmy."

"'The scoop'? Really? Look, I know you love the idea of playing investigative reporter, but you've got a job to do. You've got work assigned, and you've got deadlines."

In an instant, she went from sheepish to indignant. How dare he talk to her like that? He was an editor, not, like, a real manager. "Yeah, you know what? I do. And I also set my own hours and can do what I want if I get my assignments submitted on time. You're my editor, not my dad, and unless you're going to act like a coworker instead of a nanny, I'm about ready to get back to, you know, my job."

He quickly backed off, tone apologetic. "No, you're right, I'm not your dad. And I don't have to be your editor right now, either. I'm your friend, Siobhan, and I'm worried about you."

Annnd, now she felt bad. "You've been in a weird place lately, and… I don't know, this just seems…"

He trailed off, and for a while the only thing she could hear was the scuffing of her heels as she trudged along.

"Yeah, no, I get that. But this is real, Jim. Like, I can't really explain it, it's not something I've felt before, but I know this is important."

A fleshless sigh. "I guess I just have to trust you. Not a lot of weird, magic urges when you're a skeleton, you know."


There was more silence. Siobahn turned a corner as Jimmy started talking again.

"Look, just, if you ever feel like you need–"

"Wait, wait, wait. I'm going to have to call you back."

For a moment he could hear her shuffling intensify to a thudding dash before the call ended.


Huebert glowered at the latest group of rotating doctors that had come to poke and prod at him. The place was obviously a hospital, but it was feeling a lot more like a laboratory the way these people were treating their ostensible patient. He'd had to remind them that he only had so much blood to draw, for one thing, and was only not being vivisected because his experience with the NSC had made him unhesitant to punch someone's head off when the scalpels had come out. The flow of doctors slowed to a trickle after that.

"Doctors" and "people" were the easiest words to use for these… things. They were accurate words, and they didn't remind him of the flaking skin and exposed bone and omnipresent stench that came with the things they represented. He hadn't really been thinking of what the Fool had told them when he had called for a medic, hadn't been thinking of what might respond. Hadn't been thinking of anything but TinTen and his own uselessness and the sort of things that could happen to a soldier with wounds like that left untreated. He wasn't sure yet if he regretted it; sure, the… people here looked like they might well end up killing him by accident in their excitement to learn about this mysterious "life disease", but it pretty much boiled down to hoping they could or would save TinTen or trying to hunt down Tengeri and hoping she knew enough about Meipi biology to stabilize him. What kind of doctor had she been, anyway?

Still, it was mercifully (perhaps) easy to shut down his meandering ruminating with the semiconstant threat of some hapless skeleton or overenthusiastic ghost pulling out his kidneys for science to worry about. It kept things refreshingly in the present, even if he had to occasionally strain to remember his first aid training to explain why exactly a tracheotomy wouldn't actually improve his respiration and why he needed to respire at all. A fair few of the assembled medicorpses were a bit suspicious of how he seemed to know so much about life and living, but that was largely ignored for the sakes of professionalism and curiosity. And so it continued, and so Huebert had a consistent situation to deal with and occupy his mind. Of course, no situation lasts forever.

"Alright, everyone out," came a voice from the crowded door. "I need to consult with the patient, and you all need to get decontaminated."

It was mere seconds before the room was empty save for two beings – the boss here apparently demanded rather a lot of respect or fear – and Huebert was left staring down the skeleton-woman who had called herself chief of staff and a lich, whatever that was. As she began speaking again, she closed the door and replaced the sheet of shimmering plastic that was apparently quarantining him from the rest of the building.

"Well, Mr. Henderson, I'm very happy to let you know that your friend's condition has stabilized. Things became much easier when we realized he wasn't completely alive, which would frankly have been very helpful information to have at the beginning. We've got him in stasis while we wait for one of our experts to arrive from his practice. You'll be happy to know Dr. Maniciewicz is one of the city's top demonologists, so he'll be in good claws while we sort things out."

Mr. Henderson felt like a response was being prompted by the lichdoc's vaguely-accusatory opening, but he had too many questions of his own being raised by "not quite alive" and "stasis" and "demonologist" to bite; he still wasn't sure what the status quo was here, and in the absence of knowing what kind of answer was going to turn him from a medical curiosity to a threat that needed purging, he settled for silence.

Dr. Octavius had spent far too long as an administrator and as a warlock to be derailed, and simply continued. "With him handled for the moment until our specialist arrives, our focus turns to you. To begin with, you're in a much better position than he was to tell us a little bit about how this happened to you. It would certainly help us develop a treatment plan if we knew what we were dealing with, or at least where it came from."

"Don't you run this place?" Huebert wasn't sure why he was being so antagonistic, or even really giving it much thought, but he felt he could be forgiven in the circumstances. "I feel like you have to have better things than keep me posted on everything."

"Well, yes, I suppose I do. And at the same time, no; I have to keep my employees safe, and I'd rather potentially expose myself to whatever is vivifying you than ask my subordinates to. But regardless, that's not why I'm here. Professional curiosity and caution aside, I'm here because I thought it would be best to let you know personally that my corporeologists have devised an experimental solution to the problem; as the most stable patient, we believe it would be best to allow you the opportunity to save yourself."

Huebert pulled back, too shocked to even make an effort not to seem horrified. "Hell no! I'm not letting a bunch of zombies cut me open until I'm dead, even if I'd still be walking around afterwards. And that's a big fucking if."

"I'd hoped you wouldn't see it that way. Or might at least make an effort to disguise your racism, I suppose; our zombie doctors are every bit as well trained as every other member of our staff, and attitudes like that do nothing but prevent everyone from receiving the best care they can."

"I don't care if it's a zombie or a haunted scalpel, I'm not consenting to anything."

"I'd been advised that the… virus, or whatever it is, might be affecting your cognition. Likely in an effort to save itself, or perhaps simply coincidentally. We'll know more as we treat you. Regardless, I do have to remind you that you are not, currently, undead."

"Yeah, that's why I'm here, but–"

"Which means," she continued slightly louder, cutting him off as she drew her wand, "that you do not actually have any rights."

Rules, Atlas supposed, were meant to be broken. And were primarily not for Chiefs of Staff in any case. Bands of force wove around the man's limbs as she broke her own magical strictures for the second time in one day.

"You have no more actual choice in the matter than the corpses we'll be using to replace your living parts with."


The sun glittered on the elegantly sculpted brow of Clarissa Kelly, Action Sixes News. She didn't particularly like being up at this hour, but breaking stories were breaking stories, and she did have to admit that the evening sun complemented the delicate layer of frost that paisleyed its way across her skin. It was a very camera-friendly effect. She liked camera-friendly.

She didn't like this ghost, particularly; he didn't seem to know much, and was of course a Wailer. Nobody liked interviewing them, or probably listening to interviews with them, but he'd been the only one still at the scene by the time she and her cameraghoul had made it. Which meant he was the only one who knew anything even if it wasn't much, which meant he was the only thing separating their story from being the kind of gossipy early-night non-news she had spent so long avoiding the trap of. Really, when the vague-answers-to-vapid-questions were interrupted by pounding boots and shouted objections, it was almost a relief.

Almost because this was her job (and now she'd have to do another take with the Wailer, thank the below they weren't live), and almost because it turned out the source of the interruption was that dumpy banshee from the newspaper. Ugh. What a wannabe, a nobody. Probably had a crush on her, too. Gross. Right now she was waving her arms around, yelling about something stupid, getting between the camera and its rightful focus, Clarissa.

"Look, you can't broadcast this shit!"

The ghost looked a bit miffed at that; nobody likes having their fifteen minutes dangled in front of them then taken away. "Wh-wh-whoooo are yoooou to decide THAAAAAAT? Get ouuuuut of heeeere, this is biiiig stuuuuuuuuff!"

The banshee ignored him and glared at Clarissa instead. "You know you'll cause a panic if you put this stuff on the air. You might as well come out and say 'Living apocalypse now science fact; stay tuned for eight ways you can commit suicide before you get converted and slaughter your family' or whatever. There'll be riots, people will get hurt."

The ghoul gently shoved her out of the way but she went spectral and let his claws wave through her like mist. "Miss, wrr just hrr t' rprrt th' nws."

"And anyway," Clarissa finally deigned to interject, "I somehow doubt your noble intentions extend to not saying anything in that rag of yours. You're just mad we're breaking the story first."

"That rag of mine," she yelled, waving her notepad for emphasis, "actually does, like, literally any fact-checking before it shoves sensationalist crap down people's throats. You know full well the difference between my article and your "story" would be the difference between "mysterious ailment mimics life" and "BUY GOLD BONDS BEFORE THE LIVING EAT YOUR FLESH", so don't you act like this is a jealousy thing."

"I don't think it's jealousy. I think it's inadequacy."

"This is a-a-aaaall very unprofeeeesionaaaaaaal!"

"Shut up. And you can choke on an icicle, frosty. You know this is wrong."

"No, I know it's news. It's news, and in two hours, it's going to broadcast across the city just in time for everyone to have their breakfast and get on with their night. Informed and interested. Not panicking and crazy. You print types are so reactionary."

"You're either an idiot, or you know full well what you're about to do and don't care. I don't know which is worse."

"I don't have time for your childishness, I have an interview to conduct. You can either go report on someone's lost grimalkin somewhere else, or I can call the police.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
Around his friends, at barbecues or whatever, it was always “just a job.” During Friday nights out with the squad (always the designated driver, of course), that was always the line. “The job.” As though they were just shuffling papers around. And sometimes—for weeks at a time, sometimes—that’s how it felt. Just work like any other. No different from his old gig as a cabbie, before he had the siren installed and the cage put up between his front and backs seats.

But there were other times when it wasn’t just a job. When everything snapped into focus and the dream became real. When Officer Machen Modelo wasn’t just police—he was a fucking cop. Today was one of those days.

The suspect was a crafty one; he’d managed to escape the dragnet and get ahold of a vehicle. A motorcycle. The thing was in good condition, too—fast and maneuverable. The perfect ride for a criminal on the run, and the suspect warmed to it quickly. Within a minute, he’d left the better part of the squad in the dust, leaving only two officers able to catch up. That was Modelo and Silvia “Sleepy” Holloway, the headless horsewoman on the South End beat. Holloway was something to behold with that siren sticking out of her neck and her head at her hip opposite her sidearm. There were still good police in this department, yessir.

The suspect ran Modelo and Holloway around the city for the better part of two hours. Played them for fools. But they never lost him, and eventually forced him to hole up.

Modelo turned on his radio. Ksssht. “Suspect has abandoned his vehicle and ran into what looks like some kinda warehouse. Officer Holloway is in pursuit.” (This last with an envious sneer in his voice.) Over.”

Ksssht. “Copy that, Modelo. Think this is his hideout? Over.”

Ksssht. “Nah. He ditched his hog in a hurry. Looked like he had some kinda shakes. Probably just picked a building old enough that he could bash in the locks. Over.”

Ksssht. “Alright, Modelo, what’s your location? Over. Oh, and, uh, what’s this warehouse? Over over.”

Ksssht. “It’s on, uh, sixth between Romero and Hammer. Looks pretty run down. Sign says ‘Eurydice.’ Two over easy.”

Ksssht. “Stop. Spell Yuri Dee Say for me? Over.”

Ksssht. “E as in elegy, U as in a lamb’s mom, R like a pirate, Y like a philosopher, and then dice, like craps. Eurydice. Ogre.”

Radio silence for a minute. Modelo strained his don’t-know-how-they-work senses for any sounds from inside the warehouse. Holloway’s horse, stabled up across the street, whinnied nervously. Suspect considered armed and dangerous. And the second the man ran through a door, Modelo was helpless. He hated this part.

Ksssht. “Alright, I got the manager on the line. Nothing but paper products in there, and there’s a crew inside every day. Nowhere for anyone to hole up, they don’t think. Unless he—”

The warehouse’s front door swung open with a creak. Out walked Holloway, the perp slung over her shoulder, her head hanging from her other hand. She was limping. Hurt. The horse brayed.

“Shit!” Modelo opened his front and rear passenger’s side doors. “Throw him in the back and take shotgun! I can get you to the hospital faster than your horse -- no disrespect.”

Holloway handed her head off to the horse (who held her in its mouth by the hair), and the rest of her stumbled over toward Modelo. “Take my body,” the head wheezed. “I’ll cover your rear.”

Holloway’s body threw the suspect in the back seat, tucked his feet in, and then took shotgun. It was a little unsettling, honestly. He didn’t know how to make conversation. The suspect, for his part, was soundly unconscious; an unassuming guy in some kind of shiny fetish gear, looked like tin foil. It made Modelo sick to think about, honestly, if the rumors were true.

He tried the radio instead. Ksssht. “Suspect in custody. Officer Holloway is wounded. I’m taking her to the ER. Over.”

Holloway’s body gave a thumbs-up, which Modelo took as a gesture of gratitude. And a sign that she could hear without her ears. Modelo was trying very hard to be accommodating to a female officer from a different background, just like the sensitivity counselor had told him

“So, uh. What happened in there? Are you shot?”

Holloway reached into her pocket and pulled out a bloody knife. Not a combat blade, just cutlery. Suspect coulda nicked it from anywhere served food.

“Right. That’s evidence, then. Glove box?”

Holloway deposited the knife. Ksssht. “Modelo, they’re gonna go ahead and take the suspect at the hospital too. Quarantine, they’re calling it. Precautionary, you know. And both you and Holloway are going to have to stay there at least—“ kssssssssht

“Hello, officer Modelo.” This was not a voice the motorgeist recognized. “And… Holloway, is it?”

A shift in the light reflected off of her siren was the only indication that Holloway had craned her neck in the direction of the radio.

Ksssht. “Yes, hello?” asked Modelo. “Who is this? How are you on this frequency? Over.”

Ksssht. “You can call me Draco. Suffice to say that I am a party with interests—righteous interests, mind—that, regrettably, conflict with those of your superiors.”

Modelo tried to exchange a glance with Holloway. This was the sort of gesture that was imprinted in his instinctive memories, somewhere, but that was obviously impossible in both parties’ present conditions. Ksssht. “Mister Draco, I’ve got a wounded cop here and a fugitive from justice who might be a threat to the entire city. Every second you block this channel, you’re interfering with police work. Over.”

Ksssht. ”Under ordinary circumstances, Officer Modelo, I have a great respect for the law. I’ve had a hand in authoring many of the policies that you enforce, and I do not take that lightly. And I would never contact you in this way if I hadn’t first been satisfied that I couldn’t resolve the problem within the bounds of my normal institutional influence. But, in this case, with all this fearmongering in the media, I find myself forced to resort to… let’s say, laws beyond the law.”

Ksssht. “Mr. Draco, I’ve got to say, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Over.”

Ksssht. “There are laws beyond the law, Officer Modelo, and one of those laws is the law of capital. I may not have the authority of the police, but, simply put, I have more money than they do. The sort of money that could go a long way towards that new sound system I know you want.”

Ksssht. “How do you—are you trying to bribe an officer of the... How much money are you…” Holloway had her arms crossed. “…Over.” Kzzt.

Ksssht. “All I require is that you bring your suspect—and your wounded officer, of course—to my on-site medical facilities at the University. Officer Holloway, we’ll need your help to furnish an alibi. You, too, will be compensated graciously, with no chance of reprisals from within the department.”

Holloway uncrossed her arms. The two officers began the sort of nonverbal negotiation—a nervous feeling each other out, like he was about to ask her to prom—that would have been much easier if either of them had faces to use. Modelo slowed down by about ten miles per hour. Holloway made a sort of wavy motion with the flat of her hand. Modelo adjusted his rear-view mirrors. Holloway tapped her foot. Modelo activated his turn signal. Holloway gave a thumbs-up.

Ksssht. “Okay, Mr. Draco. We’re in, but you’d better make good on this. Just let us know the exact address you want us to—“ Fwoom kssssssssssssssht

And then Modelo’s back seat was on fire, the suspect apparently having spontaneously combusted. Modelo screamed and began swerving erratically in vestigial recourse to his “stop, drop and roll” training. Holloway’s body wrenched hi door open and leapt to safety at high speed, clutching at her gut wound.

One thing with the whole haunted car thing is that you can’t really fall unconscious—not at speed, anyway. But you can easily retreat into that hazy state of agonizing shock—that desperate escape from reality that hits any sort of being in the wake of sufficient trauma. This state, when coupled with a V8 engine, feels sort of like PCP, or being fifteen again.

Which is to say that while Modelo didn’t black out at any point—he lived through every painful moment of burning upholstery—he didn’t precisely remember the sequence of events that led to him hitting the wall. It was like a jumble of photos that had been put through a shredder, eaten by a seagull, and shat out onto his windshield. Only more painful. Things only really started coming together when the water came and put his fire out. The water came from… a snake? A nice snake lady who said she was his friend.

His mind wasn’t really working straight until after his friends at the University got his new leather seats installed.

With the built-in cooler.

In this job, you learn to take the good with the bad.

* * * * *

A fun fact about hospitals is that everyone avoids eye contact there. There’s a certain onus, in intensive care facilities, to stay out of people’s way and not make any assumptions. So even though Saint Scofflaw had that rosy red flush to his cheeks that differentiated him from the normal clientele, and even though every professional in the building had been in to have a look at him in the past twenty-four hours, no one noticed him in the halls. He’d asked his new nurse friend for some spare bandages in the hope of wrapping his head up – doing the whole Invisible Man look, if not a passable mummy impression – but wound up using the lot of them on his fingerstump. Flowing blood was a pretty good indicator of life – spurting blood was worse – and he was getting enough sniffs and double-takes from the local vampires as it was.

Acting the model of cooperation was still the best plan, he knew, even if it had cost him a finger already. Nobody else in his merry band of thieves had the good sense to allow themselves to become a medical marvel. God knows what would happen if Tor wound up in here, and someone, for instance, had the audacity to tell him not to swallow the entire scalpel, after he’d gotten hold of a scalpel.

Skeleton nerd: Hmmm, errr, we haven’t, um, fully researched the effects of knifeophagia on people with the, uh, life virus


What a tool.

This was all well and good from a certain perspective, but Scofflaw still hadn’t decided whether or not he was planning on killing everybody and winning the battle. The idea certainly had its appeal. There was also the long game—kill the Fool, wreak havoc across the multiverse, all that—but, he had to admit, he hadn’t put himself in a great position to wage that particular war. He was better off just being the good little battler, putting his enemies to the scalpel and heading home with some new ideas for doomsday devices.

That was the rational analysis. But there were other factors getting in the way. Scofflaw had certain… preferences as to how he wanted this thing to go down. If these were only whims, he would have no problem indulging them, but these felt a little more… sentimental. The kind of feeling he always got when he met a woman who he knew would one day be his ex-wife. That let’s-have-a-one-time-only-team-up excitement that he associated mostly with self-sabotage.

He realized that he’d liked the hospital plan not so much because it created a high likelihood of a certain outcome, but because it let him lay in bed, passively nudge certain parties in the direction of other parties, and take credit for whatever came of that. And now he wasn’t even lying in bed. Stupid old fool.

The good news was, he found what he was looking for. Deep down in the bowels, where your normal alive-person-type hospital might only have, say, a boiler room and miscellaneous storage, things got a little freaky. The fluorescent lights petered out and the floors and walls got a lot blacker and brickier and moldier and oldier. The corridors themselves got narrower and their crossings took on a certain… labyrinthine quality. This. Was a dungeon. Not dungeon in the literal sense, as in a prison. A Dungeon, as in, a place of power and mystery. The kind of place the living don’t just walk into without a good reason.

And this was what passed for a medical facility around here. Bah.

It seemed that your modern necropolis didn’t have much of a budget to spare for unspeakable horrors around every corner, as Scofflaw didn’t have much trouble finding the small side chamber where an orderly was standing watch over a patient in critical care. He thought of several ways to get past the bescrubsed orderly, ranging from the expedient to the thorough; he opted for the former. After all, he’d already gone to the trouble of taping two tongue depressors together at a ninety-degree angle.

This he brandished as he approached the orderly. “Whoooooa,” said the zombie, seeing the strange man approach with his instrument. “Hey, man. What are you—”

The really important part of this trick was to scream like an idiot. “FOUL, UNGODLY CREATURE!” Scofflaw shouted. “CHRIST COMPELS YOU! BEGONE!”

The makeshift crucifix began to glow with a beauteous light. Scofflaw redoubled his brandishment. The orderly recoiled and backed off a few steps. “Whoa! Whoa, whoa, shit! Shit, man! What the fuck? What are you—”


“Yeah, man, sure. Fuck. Fuck.” The zombie took off in a run, shielding his eyes. “Jerkoff.”

“AND SPEAK NOT OF THIS OR HIS ANGELS WILL HOUND YOU UNTIL THE END OF DAYS!” Scofflaw waited by the doorway until he could no longer hear the zombie’s footsteps. His tongue depressors would not stop glowing. He shook them around and they dimmed momentarily before resuming their distractingly angelic brightness.

He sighed and turned the crucifix upside down. “Hail Satan,” he muttered. The cross briefly burst into flame and let loose some electric guitar licks before crumbling into ash. “There we go.” He stepped into the chamber and beheld the patient, held static inside a pentagram. “Bet you didn’t know I could do that, huh?”

The patient did not respond. It was normal, when trapped inside a pentagram, to be conscious of the world around you, so Scofflaw felt safe in assuming that he was properly monologuing, rather than just soliloquizing. “Well, guess again, nerd. ‘He was a brilliant science student, but he was only interested in forbidden experiments! One night, the evil genius went too far, as he brought forth powers which even he could not control!’ FF #5. Basically a bible for people in my line of work.”

Still no response. “The point is, the job’s all about broadening your horizons. Something you wouldn’t know much about. Now, when it comes to holy magic, it’s all about how much you believe. And, I gotta tell you, I believe in whatever, these days. I’ve seen some shit.”

The dude just kept on floating in the circle like some asshole. “Anyway. So now I’m trying to figure out what to do with you. And we should make it quick, cause I only have two more Turns Undead prepped for today.”

Tentacles hanging there like someone trying to eat spaghetti but fucking it up. “You see, even if I’m going to go all hardass rah-rah-rah win-win-win battle contestant, just letting you die doesn’t do me any good. Won’t advance the round. And word around the block is your boy-toy’s getting a power upgrade. So I’m going to have to deal with that at some point.”

Scofflaw sighed and looked around. The chamber had many of the accouterments of a regular examining room, with some unholy shrine paraphernalia mixed in. He could make do. “Okay, TinTen. But we’re doing this my way.”

He pulled a medical chart off the wall, scribbled some runes and notes on the back of it, and rolled it up into two tubes. It wasn’t a scroll exactly, but it would do. Then he searched through a drawer of medical supplies. There was an old pair of clamps that looked like they had a high enough iron content to function as brute-force antimagic.

At the sink he washed his right hand, blessed the water, and washed it again. This would have the side bonus of maybe going a ways toward disinfecting his finger-stump. “Oh heavenly spirit,” Scofflaw begged. “Let this, the holiest of vessels, my non-jerk-off hand, (except sometimes when I feel like changing up), be the instrument of Thy healing will.” His hand started to get those good tingly feelies he always got when he did this.

Careful not to touch anything with his right hand, the Crafty Cleric of Crime gently placed the iron clamps over the holding circle, which fizzled and shot up sparks. TinTen dropped to the ground and resumed his hemorrhaging and writhing. Scofflaw laid his right hand right onto that mess of tentacles and fluids. Holy energy transferred through him into the patient, which had… a marginal effect. The invocation was only good for Light Wounds, after all. But TinTen’s gurgling solidified into a much more healthy sounding high-pitched scream, with maybe an actual expletive or a
”you…” mixed in there. Tough to tell.

The Meipi made a lunging moment that could have been prelude to a hug, but Scofflaw wasn’t ready to take that risk. He kicked the clamp back out of the salt circle and spoke some unspeakable names, and TinTen stopped moving again.

“Gottem,” grunted Scofflaw. A kickback effect from the cure spell seemed to have mostly healed over his finger-stump, which felt nice, but had probably cost him any hope of reattachment. But, hey, at least it wasn’t his primary jerk-off hand. “You’re welcome, by the way. I might have just saved your life. And now for my next trick.”

Scofflaw unfurled the scroll and began to read from it in a language that not even he fully understood. It took him maybe half a minute to get through the whole thing, but as soon as he did, Tinten blooped out of existence.

Just like that. Bloop. The circle stood empty. It was nice when everything went according to plan.

Scofflaw grabbed a red sharpie and labeled the back end of his scroll
SCROLL OF SUMMON MEIPI, then shoved it into his waistband and walked back upstairs.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
Tor paced what he'd resorted to calling a bunker, because the alternative was cell, and that probably would've been offensive terminology for the ghosts, geists, and other disembodied. He tried not to think about Tengeri, tried not to think of her having a nice chat with a ghost or whatever while he was told to sit in this corner and think about what he'd done, like a sentrali child.

It was easy, actually, to not think about that. Because according to Tengeri, Velobo was dead. The Gauntlet, and the NSC's trace - left in Alex's world if they were lucky, repurposed as a trap by the Fool if not. The Leviath had accepted a small trace of her own for this very situation, though she couldn't activate it on her end. Too much risk the Fool might object.

Jetsam, since Tor had asked, had whereabouts unknown. Tengeri said it a little too neutrally, and Tor had bitten back a tirade and resigned himself to being escorted to a cell. Bunker. Whatever.

There were footsteps outside his cell (if Tor were down here more voluntarily, he might've wondered why a university had a single underground, fireproofed bunker), metal surfaces obfuscating the exact number. More than two, at least.

They stopped a bit further up the hall, then tk-tk, against the door. A skeleton? Another haunted machine?
"Kajan." He didn't recognise the voice. "It's me. The guards won't let me in until you're against the back wall."

Tor complied; a couple more feet clack-thunked to the door, pushing it open. A cloaked skeleton strode in, intoning, "leave us." Tor stared at the onyx ring, dangling from Jetsam's clavicle upon a silver chain.

"You were right," spoke the lich, after an age. Its face was still pointed in Tor's direction, but that hal still roiled and recoiled like two pain-distracted halves of a severed snake. "About the battle."

Internal alarm bells.
"Jetsam, what did you-"

Fear. Before Tor could react, the lich's fingers were around his throat, pinning him against the wall. Jetsam was shaking at the joints, like whatever magic was holding his bones in the right places was straining. "YOU- YOU THINK I-" Jetsam tried to draw a shuddering breath, and his skull region emitted some kind of ominous beyond-the-grave rattling instead.


Tor, to his credit, at least attempted to shove Jetsam off before combusting. A ceiling sprinkler kicked in with an initial sprffff of dust from a bygone era, by which point the Telpori-hotspot had already mostly risen out of the sprinkler's arc.

Tor landed with a splash, and a fair bit of steam. Jetsam had backed off, one sooted hand grasping the ring and the other clenching, unclenching, clenching, unclenching. The burned parts of his cloak trickled off him as grayish water.

"I don't know what happened," Tor began, fruitlessly trying to shake off water, "and I shouldn't make assumptions. I never saw you last round, and all I heard was that Velobo went to rescue you." Clench. Unclench. Lower. "Will you tell me what happened to you?"

"You first."

"You-" exhale. Building trust. "No. No, that's fine. Me, I ran into a group of heroes, I suppose I'd call them, from a book or a game or something. I tagged along with them, they were off to defeat that woman controlling the castle-"


"Yes, her. Ran into Huebert-"

"What about the squid?" Jetsam demanded.

Tor shook his head. "Haven't seen TinTen since the Battlefield, either. Anyway, we ran into trouble, and Alex - the group's leader - she was killed. Then, the NSC showed up."

Jetsam's voice dropped an additional ominous octave, though mostly-involuntarily. He was a bit hard to hear over the persistent hiss of the sprinkler. "The what? Were they the ones with the portal?"

"From Tengeri's world, yes. Scientists and the like. They... meant well." Tor struggled to not pull a face. "Velobo set off to find you with some of their men. Myself and Huebert, we went looking for Alex's killer. We-" Tor had to pause here, flick water off his hands to avoid making a fist, chastising himself for assuming that Jetsam would scream hypocrisy, pointing fingers when he had blood on his hands.

"Did you kill him?" No accusation, though not much of anything else like curiosity or emotions of the living. Jetsam shook his head, eye sockets sloshing a bit, managed the second time to make his voice sound marginally gentler. "Kajan, did you kill him?"

"Yeah. We did." Jetsam said nothing. "Look, it was messed up, he was twice her rettal size and struck her down while her back was turned-"

"IT’S FINE-" shrieked Jetsam. The Telpori-Hal started. "FUCK, DAMNIT-" he did the rattling thing again "-volume control. Still working on it." Jetsam sulked hands over mouth, inasmuch as a necromantic horror standing in the rain could. Tor would've laughed, except for that dangling question.

He instead repeated back:
"It's fine. What happened to you?"

Jetsam, still making that futile muffling gesture, glanced about the bare room for a possible distraction, before conceding. "Found myself as some kind of dragon. Ran into Velobo, we stumbled into Midday's quarters and found Scofflaw. Killed him, but nothing happened."

"You- it's not important. Please continue."

"Midday came in, we tried to fight her and lost. Velobo escaped, she slapped some kind of magic collar on me and made me go hunt down the adventurers." A pause, a glare like he was daring Tor to express sympathy, but the Telpori-Hal bit back whatever he was thinking. "Ran into Velobo instead, he figured a loophole so I could ignore my orders, least while there was nobody to kill. The place was collapsing, so we escaped outside and... fucking, Midday was there, in some kind of argument with the squid, lots of fireballs being tossed around between them. Yeah, him," Jetsam pre-empted, finally staring at Tor through the rain with those twin points of infernal light. "Don't know where he learned magic from, but it was definitely him."

"Krekkad it. Does Huebert know?" Jetsam shrugged, all the-fuck-should-I-care in the glare he gave the captain, who gestured to keep going.

"We fought, I snapped a wing and lost my footing, and that idiot cube jumped after me," crescendoed Jetsam, a gastly wail picking up in involuntary accompaniment. His hal writhed under Tor's gaze, like it was trying in vain to present any uninjured side to him. "They hit him with some kind of... lightning spell. That's all I saw before things shifted again."

Tor, already looking pretty grim under the persistent sprinkler-rain, was positively glowering. He spat a curse word roughly translating to <Bird-Jesus, Take the Wheel and Immolate It>. He had no idea what to say to Jetsam.
"Look, we need to tell Tengeri. Huebert, too. Is there any way you can get me out of here?"

Jetsam would've pulled a face, but failing that, he let his pall of death kind of flare up about him. It turned a bit of the water showering him into ichor. Tor was a little too drenched by this point to muster up real irritation. "She's not your enemy, Jetsam. She's trying, and she means well-"

"-Like her science club back home?" retorted Jetsam.

"...Yeah." The lich had, at least, made for the door and rapped at it all skeletal-stacatto, gesturing for Tor to step back a bit. "I trust her."

Jetsam surveyed the Telpori-Hal with an unreadable look. "You trust me," he said, like it was a counter-argument, or at least a mark on Tor's character. The cell opened with a clank and a creak, and Tor tried to shrug nonchalantly as he could. Metal clothes and water weren't a great combination to maintain body heat, peppery metabolism or no.

"Yeah," he said. "I do."

If Jetsam had a response, it got caught up in the guards, who e brushed off as they fretted over his singed and sodden cloak. All three of them kept gesturing to Tor, the lich's silhouette kept periodically flaming up with dark energy, and everyone seemed to reach an agreement shortly after Jetsam roared "HEED THIS, PALE SPECTRES, THIS MAN IS MY VASSAL, HIS NEEDS ARE UNMET IN THESE ACCCOMODATIONS AND I WILL BE CLAIMING HIM, YES, WE WILL CERTAINLY SEEK AN AUDIENCE WITH THE LORD-CHANCELLOR OR WHATEVER POSTHASTE."

The lich turned to Tor, the spark in its eyes a little more eerily... animated. "Come." Tor figured it best to hold off on telling Jetsam to mind the attitude, at least until they'd gotten away from these ghosts.

Jetsam was already striding off. A ghoul at the top of the stairs passed Tor a mercifully clean towel, shrinking from the lich's imperious path. He was slack-jawed at the sight of Tor, though considering ghouls that might not have been awe. He scrubbed his face and hair at least, quickly as he could, then ran to catch up with his "lord" or whatever.

"What was that about?" the captain asked, voice low though nobody was around to hear them.

"Something about this form, they'll mostly do what I tell them," droned Jetsam, before realising the implication and glancing at Tor, who glowered back. The lich at least attempted to assume a general air of guilt, which Tor was starting to understand was a solid effort on his part. In a softer voice, it continued: "We'd best maintain the deception for now, if you'd suffer through it."

"Not like I have much of a choice, do I?"

A noise like knuckles cracking; Jetsam intended it to be a tired chuckle. He winced. "Not until I can get you a pardon or the like. Heard you assaulted a cop, after all."
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
I'mmmmm gonna do a thing before the month is out (reserved)

if folks have stray ideas or want to collab on this to some extent or another hmu
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
A weekish hence, Port Danake Harbormaster’s office

Dragged from the Styx dumped rotted and ramshackle at a bend in the river, it was hard to tell where the wooden docks ended and the heaped flotsam began. Both were recognised points of entry for immigrants to the City, who comprised a consistent portion of imports. The lower stories of an underground parking lot had subsided through the roof, and some wall-crawling dockworkers had dangled extension cords and power strips down the elevator shaft and plugged in it far too many strings of fairy lights. Their glow was steady - if dim - in the still cavern air.

In a couple of hours, when the city woke up and the parking lot’s residents let their bats out to feast on cave-gnats, the fairy lights would twinkle like stars.

Jetsam looked out over the port from the harbormaster’s office. He’d been awake for at least 150 hours straight, and felt moderately ok about everything. This view of the town through this reception window was nicer than that in his office proper, which was dominated by the open water of the (a?) Styx. Dark and still and quiet, it had an intensity that subsumed watercraft’s noise and motion, idle threats to the mere notion of unlife disrupting repose. Jetsam kept the blinds down, mostly.

The lich strolled over to his personal assistant’s desk, a compact fortress of filing cabinets with the scant plyboard space occupied by a beige tower computer and peripherals. The monitor was halfway dismantled, the guts of it spread out in something that might’ve been a pattern over the remaining desk. Jetsam touched nothing, but the calendar gave him pause.


Tonight was the night, wasn’t it?

Jetsam headed for the door, almost pushed it open without thinking,then doubled back and grabbed a cloak draped over the back of the chair. Checked the time while he was there. No rush just yet. Great, Jetsam thought, as he knocked and entered.

Behind the walnut desk sat Tor, burnt leaner in the limbs and sharper in the face than Jetsam had seen in a decent while. He looked ready for a fistfight as he pored over manifests and ledgers, and seemed so supremely in his element that Jetsam felt something stirring. Envy. Probably. Tor tensed a little, relaxed when he saw it was Jetsam, and gestured to the seat across from him.

“I’m just about done here. The cab’s going to show up in-”
he glanced at the clock. Jetsam was - he felt - what if it hadn’t been him interrupting Tor’s accounting, what if Octavius had stopped by - “twenty minutes.” Kajan, she’d banish you if she found you in my seat, probably kill you when that didn’t work-

“Kajan,” he said, then stopped and tried again so it sounded more like a greeting, less like a warning. The room smelt faintly of smoke; Tor must’ve been up and working here for a few hours. “Kajan.”

“Yes, boss?”

It took him a second to figure Tor was joking: that he’d taken this whole contrived situation in his stride, could put aside his resentment for the role he’d been shoved into long enough to be civil to Jetsam, to show restraint, to joke about it-

-The “demonic familiar” angle had been the Chancellor’s idea. The lich that “summoned” him would ensure his infernal minion(s) caused no further trouble, and cover the costs of their altercations with local law enforcement. The (draco)lich who orchestrated the whole coverup would happily cover Lord Bane-jamine’s costs gratis.

Make sure Tor wore a heavy cloak while out and about in the City, accept the out-of-the-limelight job of Harbormaster as per Octavius’ arrangements, and the two had for the most part stayed out of trouble. Tor - with actual business experience, and with his only standing order being to punch Jetsam’s skull off if he ever actually told Tor what to do - divided most of his time between managing the port and visiting Tengeri while the City slept. Jetsam went mostly - and was Seen - wherever people (Octavius, mostly) told him to go.

He wanted to thank Tor. Apologise. He placed Tor’s cloak in the empty chair; paused on his way out. “I’ll be waiting downstairs.”

He closed the door behind him, let the negative energy stream deep from his marrow as cold fire. Just stood like that for a dark and stormy minute, clutching at the onyx ring like it was his better half, like it wasn’t any old cut-whichway half of a liar, a fraud, a ki-

“Pull yourself together,” he hissed.


Cypress Ridge Apartments, Room 102

Jimmy rang the doorbell, a tupperware container under one arm. When Siobhan answered the door, she seemed to process the goods before the courier.

“Oh. Jimmy. How do you know where I live?”

“I asked around the-”

“Is that soup?”

The skeleton handed it over, more to free his hands up than anything. “Mmm. I had to ask your neighbor which place was yours, and she gave me this to pass onto you.”

“Ugh, it’s seaweed isn’t?” She opened the lid a crack and sniffed. “Bleh. Yup. I never want to ask if it’s her hair she’s making this out of… ugh.” The soup’s mysteries exhausted, the banshee had to look up at Jimmy. “If this is about my deadlines-”

“-it’s not.” The whole story. “I just want to know-” -if you’re okay- “-how your investigation was going.” She bristled, not once considering Jimmy would be the last guy in necropolis to laugh at her, so he hastened with, “annnnd if I could help at all?”

Siobhan uttered a rather endearing groan. “Uuuuuuuuuuughiiiii guess you can come in.”

“Just, ignore the mess, okay?” Siobhan called from the kitchenette, a little too late and lost in the auditory jumble of a TV and radio. Jimmy tried finding a path between haphazard stacks of paper to turn one or the other down, but the only standing room was in front of a whiteboard on wheels. It leaned against one wall, fridge magnets holding handwritten notes in place. “Siobhan, did you take this from the meeting room?”

“Basement storage, actually. We got that replacement in last month.” Jimmy didn’t respond; how had she gotten the police dispatch on the radio?

“Siobhan, I’m really not sure-”

“How these police incident reports, list of notables from Satanday’s charity gala, a university newsletter, and all these notes from the tip line I made all tie in with that incident outside Burnt Offerings?”


“Don’t blame you for losing interest - I mean I kind of can, the press’ job is supposed to be keeping the elites accountable - but it’s like everyone stopped caring! After Octavius issued that statement Viduusday!”

“Elites- Siobhan. Stop. The guy was quarantined, successfully desuscitated, and he’s being discharged this week. The Brainzfeed gif listicle of ‘Signs Your Mortality Is Catching Up To You’ got more traffic than our combined-” Jimmy shook his head; the various sources of noise in the room were giving him a headache. “Sorry, seriously, Siobhan, the elites? You were looking for some soon-to-stop Living. Why in the Mag Mell are you making this about the liches?”

The banshee’s eyes lit up. “So you do think there’s something up with them!”

“No! I mean. Who doesn’t? Nobody’s going to prove it, though.” Siobhan brandished her wad of papers again, but Jimmy merely rattled his teeth around in his skull. Twisted the volume dial on her TV down, and looked her dead in the eye. “No, Siobhan. An apartment full of newspaper clippings and a ‘tip line’ which is at least fifty percent prank calls, none of that is proof. Of anything.”

The banshee tried to turn flush with indignation, but just went intangible and dropped all her notes. Jimmy took the opportunity to turn down the radio too, then wished he hadn’t. Siobhan didn’t respond, and the shade of a city outside couldn’t make up awkward aural difference. “Please come back to work. I- we’re worried about you.”

Siobhan still didn’t say anything, so Jimmy took that as his cue and began his hazardous trek for the door. Just as he was about to leave: “I felt him cross.”

If he’d left the radio on, he might not’ve overheard her. Helped her finish seeing sense. “Who? The guy you were looking for?”

It’s not him. Because - I felt him cross, Jimmy, and it was like, like someone moved a boulder off my chest but - there’s still a whole six feet of it, Jimmy. Whatever I felt, it wasn’t for him.”

There was a wail in her voice, borne not of volume but in the cadence. “He didn’t die, Jimmy. He just. Kind of. Grayed out, like everything else in this city. That guy, whoever he is, he’s going back to his job when he’s out of the hospital and nothing’s really changed for him, just… muted. Mute-ated.”

She looked at Jimmy. Tears were rolling down her face, utterly detached from the tone of her words.

“They found a Living in the City and everything’s back to normal. Except me. This - this feeling’s not going away and-”


“But it will. And when it does, because someone, some Living, somewhere in the city, actually dies, when this feeling passes I don’t want to be left here forever wishing I knew what happened.”

“There’s someone else, Jimmy. Somebody’s going to actually die.”

“I have to know who. And you have to help me.”
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
Tengeri let out a heavy sigh and floated back to the expresso machine for yet another refill.

Turns out the staff of Extraplanar Studies department were more like inanimate objects than the living dead. Okay, it was a rather unbecoming statement from her but to be fair, there was absolutely nothing to do – no papers, no complaints. The department was basically a bureaucratic dead-zone and the only person she thinks had anything resembling an active conscious was Lachlan, who was currently in the process of stealing office supplies. She could stop him but what’s the point? She was getting restless from all this monotony, or maybe that’s just the tenth cup of coffee kicking in. Or was it the eleventh? It was a long afternoon.

Then, someone busted in the door. It was Tor Kajan.

Tengeri wasn’t an especially religious person but she praised thanks to whatever benevolent force out there for his presence. To date, the Telpori-Hal’s vists had been a welcome distraction and they had truly bonded over everything weird and different about life in the City of the Dead, which was nice, but this time something was different. Probably the fact Tor was steaming mad.

And madly steaming. Let’s not forget that.


“Dr. Nyoka.”

“How are you?” She politely greeted as she levitated him a cup of caffeinated refreshment.

“Fucking tired,” He collapsed into a nearby chair. “How do I begin –”

He didn’t really give Tengeri much choice in the matter but she decided it was best to make it like a river and go with the flow. Of the conversation. As a NSC-sponsored scientist, she particularly sympathized with him (especially on the last part) but the conversation went the turn for the well, negative. And specifically about Jetsam. Jetsam this. Jetsam that. Jetsam Jetsam Jetsam. Which, Tengeri sort of sympathized with but not as much as paperwork.

“– He told me, again to keep this stupid cloak on and not make eye contact with that hospital lich. You know the one with the damn heels –”

Tengeri nodded.

“– I get it! I get it! He doesn’t have to remind me constantly. I’m not exactly a fledging anymore, you know –”


“– and why and how do they have an entire shipment of goat’s blood every day to this fucking city. What would you do with this much goat blood?

A pause. Then an imperceptible nod.

“…You won’t understand, Tengeri.”

”You're right. I don't.” A pause. “The fume cupboard is open by the way.”

“I don’t need it right now.”

It was kind of funny to see Tor sulk like a child but Tengeri was too concerned about matters to be amused. Benjamin Jetsam. Tengeri had mixed feelings about him because he was a rude and abrasive man who could not stay set on a form for some otherworldly reason. Currently, he was a skeleton from the occasional long-distance interaction but the surliness was unmistakable. Yet, Tor seem to greatly care about him. A noble endeavor, but it was clear there was some bitterness developing between them (at least from the conversation). Eventually, Jetsam was going to wear Tor down. Or Tor was going to burn him alive, metaphorically so to speak.

It was a little worrying.

“So. What progress have you made on finding us a way out of here."

“As much as I love to exposit my progress, this conversation isn’t about escaping. This conversation is about your friend.”

“If we could jump out of this battle, I wouldn’t have to complain to you about my housemate in Death City being a lich,” Tor spat. “And also my fake boss who cannot decided when it is appropriate to act like a real boss.

“Escape? What’s the point of escaping if only you and me and Heaven forbid, Jetsam. Where is everyone else? Where is Huebert? I recently read up he was successfully quote-unquote franksteined, what is exactly that? Is that like a decontamination procedure?”

Actually. Actually…I don’t know,” Tor faltered. “I asked Jetsam and he said he’d try to get details from Octavius but. He…didn’t try…Try that hard.”

Tengeri frowned, not exactly sure to be disappointed at the fact Tor could been more convincing or the fact Tor could be less petty. Tor had his ways with words but she knew – he knew – that no amount of charisma can disprove the fact that Tor Kajan, diplomat, engineer, and ex-Captain of the Phoenix, was being kind of an asshole.

“Jetsam may be tiring to be around, but he is not the end-all, be-all cause of all your problems.”

Tor kind of wilted at the pointed statement, his wiry hair (and residual smoke) somewhat deflating. Tengeri felt a little guilty but she drew the line at treating a person like an emotional punching bag, even in conversation.

“Is there something wrong?”

“No,” Tor sighed. “It’s just. It’s been a stressful week.”

Silence. Unbearable, but necessary silence. Tengeri assimilated a small blob of coffee and watching the dark liquid dissipate in her water bubble with mild disinterest. Then she spoke.

“If I may ask, why do you still associate with Jetsam?”

“Aah. Mm,” There was a sizzling sound as Tor’s hand made contact with the nape of his neck. “Just – he might be a terrible person, but he isn’t horrible. He just needs a helping hand, some direction.” Pause. “He’s lost.”


“You won’t understand.”

“I don’t.”

Tengeri mulled on another intake of coffee. If she was in Tor’s shoes, she would had severed her relationship with Jetsam on the spot. However, the advice was cruel and burning bridges was never a great idea, especially in the context of Grand Battles, where a relationship was mightier than the most earth-shattering weapons. Beware of helping those who are lost, lest you be lost too? No, that seemed too mean-spirited. Oh, what about…

“Had you tried talking to him?”


“Him. Jetsam is what I meant.”

“You’re kidding, right? This is Jetsam we’re talking about.”

“And yet you hang out with him! No kidding! No offense, Tor but you are so wrapped up in what could happen that absolutely nothing happens because you are doing nothing at all. Look at you! All miserable and a mess. If he is as decent of a person you assume he is, then he’ll be reasonable if you talk to him.”

With a clatter and an uugh, Tor stood up and locked eyes with Tengeri, a not impossible task considering the stature of the former and the multiple eyes of the latter. He proceeded to walk backwards out of the Extraplanar Studies department into the hallway. He shuffled to the nearest window and pulled up the shutter. A pleasant breeze wafted in, made trivial by the increasing temperature of Tor’s impending combustion.

He still hadn’t lost eye contact.

“…So are you going to talk to him?”

Tor responded by falling out of the window. There was fwoom, a pulse of light, and the smell of asbestos. Tengeri was all too familiar with Tor’s eccentric physiology but she still felt a moral obligation to glide to the open window and see him off.

“What a melodramatic weirdo,” Lachlan observed the new iteration of Tor pulling himself from an ex-bush of white roses and walking out all casual-like. Lachlan shot a pencil out as a sort of farewell salvo to the visitor.

“Well, he has a good heart. And that’s all that matters,” Tengeri said as she went back to pondering where Naaxme could have been. She had so many questions for him.
RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)

Siobhan thought for a moment that the sound was the metal detector going off—like it had been repurposed as an anxiety detector—but it was just her.


A guard walked over, hovering his knucklebones an inch away from her shoulder. “Is everything okay, miss?”

eeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEmmffnn. Siobhan pressed a hand over her mouth and then, when that wouldn’t stop the keening, bit down on her own hand. The cool CapriSun taste of ectoplasm on her tongue calmed her down a bit, but made her self-conscious. Hair frazzled, eyes watering, nails chewed to shit. She imagined what all this must look like to the guard—and then remembered that she was here on perfectly legitimate business, she didn’t have to lie, and it didn’t matter how she looked, because she wasn’t a fucking TV reporter. “Migraine,” she choked out through the flesh of her hand. That one had been a lie, but so what? “I’m here for saeeeeeeeeeeefe deposit box one oh threeeeeeee.”

“Of course. Do you have the key?”

Siobhan fished the key out of her pocket and held it up, reminding herself that she hadn’t stolen it. It had just arrived in the mail under mysterious circumstances, was all. “The key,” she said, to prove that she could.

“Alright. I’ll take you down to the vault. You should know we have video surveillance down there, but, uh. No audio.”

Siobhan choked down the “fuck you” rising up in her throat—among other noises—and followed the guard down into the depths of the bank. She wasn’t committing a crime, and no one was after her. There was nothing to be afraid of. She was a respected journalist, and somebody in connection with one of a hundred interviews she’d conducted over the past week had mailed her this key, which was a perfectly sensible way to drop an anonymous tip and only a little sketcheeeeeee

The guard closed the vault behind her. Safe deposit boxes in their little rows, all different sizes. 103 was one of the big ones, at the bottom.

No one was listening. Siobhan gave herself five seconds.


Siobhan wiped away a tear and opened the box, and screamed. Just a normal scream, for normal reasons. Inside the box was a woman’s severed head.

“Hi,” said the head.

Siobhan cleared her throat. “Hi.”

“Some pipes you’ve got.”

“Sorry. I’ve had a stressful week.” Siobhan cradled the head and lifted her out of the box, assuming that she wouldn’t want to be lifted by the hair. “Did you mail me that key?”

“I thought this would be a good place to talk. Detective Sleepy Holloway.”

“Pleasure to meeeeet you. Ahem. What can I do for you, Detective Holloway?”

“You came by the station the other day,” said Holloway’s head. “You were asking about the life scare last week, and you hinted something about the liches knowing something, but it sounded like you didn’t know for sure.”

“I don’t know anything for sure,” admitted Siobhan.

“Well, now you do. I did a bad thing, Siobhan. I took some money. But I was sworn to silence.”

“I don’t believe in silence,” said Siobhan. “I’m a, uh. A journalist.”


Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.

Scofflaw carefully underlined each word, defaced the page with a perfect 45-degree earmark, stuffed the book into the envelope, and dropped it in the mailbox. It would be waiting at the door to Huebert’s new pad by the time he arrived. Huebert wouldn’t get a word of it, never mind the layers of irony (see, he’s a Frankenstein, and in the original Frankenstein—), but he’d show it one of the others, and they’d get the gist.


Sure, there was a bit of a niggle about the whole entropic-universe thing. He’d been wrestling with his newly-accentuated mortality, in between all the science and magic and rough sex that had consumed his life for the past week. But he’d decided firmly against the accelerationist “win the battle” response. Himself, Jetsam, Tor, Nyoka, and Huebert, with the squid in his back pocket—clearly this was as stable a configuration as he could hope for. A fire guy and a water lady; a dependable lunk and a mercurial hunk; three goods and a neutral to his triple-stuffed evil. No square pegs trying to tongue-whip themselves into round holes; no indignant Meipi trying to murder him. Balance. Stasis. Sort of.

The question now, Scofflaw reflected on the way back to the ol’ tomb, was who would upset the apple cart first? The Fool or the NSC? If the Fool were authorized, by whatever weird rules he comported himself, to intervene, he probably would have done so by now. Whereas the multiverse nerds had probably already—from their own frame of reference—flung themselves spatiotemporally hither, and maybe wound up a week or two late due to a rounding error. If it was the NSC, the outcomes looked pretty good. Best case scenario, they give him the resources to make a go of it in a new universe. Worst case scenario, they stick him in a jar somewhere and he’d scheme his way out. Middle case scenario, they drop him off back at home and, notwithstanding a couple unsettling revelations about the nature of reality, things go back to normal.

Unless the NSC had already been to his Earth and—hmm.

Scofflaw knocked on the door to the apartment, dabbing off his zombie makeup with a moist towelette. Until hope or ruination arrived, he had enough chaotic-neutral schemes to keep his hands busy.

Rebekshep answered the door, fully wrapped. “Morning,” she said. “You missed a spot.”

“I always do.” Scofflaw smudged his jowl where his girlfriend indicated. “All part of the mystique, Beks. Blind spots. Overlooked details. Two-meter-wide exhaust ports.”

“Uh-huh. Come on in, doofus.” She rubbed his hair, and he grinned, stepping into the living room. Beks’ apartment was cramped, but not so gloomy as it had been a week ago. Soft-white lightbulbs, an aggressive sweeping, generous Febreze, and an overall change in aura, a hint of life in the air. He’d bought some art and changed the wallpaper without asking her. “It’s time for my diagnostic,” she said.

“I know.” Rebekshep led him to the bedroom and sat down, expectantly, on the bed. “Wrist.” Scofflaw unwrapped her hand, which was down to what she called “the base layer,” essentially just clothes. As a man who prided himself on having some weird-as-shit paraphilias he could pull out as the moment needed, Scofflaw knew a good wrist when he saw one. Thin but strong. And damned if there wasn’t a trio of little blue lines, poking out for an inch or two before sinking into the palm. He put his fingers there.

And counted.

“Fifty-three,” he said. “Neck.”

“Mm-hmm.” Rebekshep would quickly learn how to do this to herself, but the whole “pulse” idea was new to her. She unwrapped from the collarbone up, and Scofflaw pressed two fingers to the vein.

He counted. “Seventy-two. Chest.”

Rebekshep unwrapped several stripes of her torso piece, careful not to dislodge her pacemaker, which, although she hadn’t needed it for days, could always be reactivated in an emergency. Scofflaw pulled a stethoscope out of a drawer, pinched the bell between two fingers above his palm, and cupped her breast. “One hundred two,” he said.

“My excitement response is getting faster,” said Rebekshep, taking a deep breath.

“That’s a good sign.” He took a few more seconds to listen to her heart, which, assisted by the best magic and science money could buy, had been so eager to get back to its job after he’d pulled it out of its jar. “Good that you’re not getting bored of me already, at least.”

“It’s been a week.” Rebekshep shifted her weight against him, nestling into the crook of his arm. “How fast do you usually get bored with your partners, Saint?”

“It depends. I have an easier time staying focused on a sex partner if they’re also a science project—or vice versa.”

“God, you’re the worst.” She giggled and laced her fingers into his and cut short his further experiments into her excitement response. “Finish the diagnostic. How’s my smell?”

Where ten was a mass grave and one was a post-sex shower on a seventy-degree day: “Call it a four.”

“Hair growth?”

He ran a finger along the surface of her scalp. It squeaked. “Nothing yet. How was work?”


“Emotionally tiring or physically tiring?”

“I don’t know.” She stood up from the bed and, while considering the question, finished undressing; she unwrapped her sleeves, and then the rest of her torso piece, and then, either out of tiredness or because she knew it would provoke him, shimmied out of her bottom wrappings like a pair of skinny jeans, pulling her asscheeks into view inch by agonizing inch. “I guess just emotionally. ‘Cause I’m not tired now.”

“If you are tired now,” said Scofflaw, playing against type, “that’s okay. We can take it easy. Maybe watch something.”

He was so impressed with her. Physically, sure, but once he’d gotten her out of that hospital and indulged her most taboo desires, her personality had lit up, the way she must have lit up the temples or marketplaces or whatever-the-fuck in the presumably-Egyptish civilization where they’d apparently been impressed enough to turn her into a collectible. He prided himself in his ability to bring these things out in people, sometimes.

Only after he’d made sure that she was not a Boring Person had he decided to tell her what he really was, and what he was hiding in the scroll that was now hidden underneath her sock drawer, and that, with enough stolen resources, he would be able to give her what she most desired. Now, alive enough to fool most morticians, she crawled into bed next to him—her body language indicating that she was taking him up on his half-bluffed offer, and they would be cuddling.

“I stole another look at Huebert on my shift last night,” she said.

“Mmm. How’d he look? Was he itching to get out of there?”

“He’s hard to get a read on. His face. He looked sad, maybe. Or confused.”

“Sad and confused is good. At the very least it means the very first thing he does when he gets out won’t be to track me down and do me like Lennie did the bunny.”

“If you wanted to,” said Rebekshep, resting her head on his chest, “do you think you could bring him back?”

“Hmm. Well, that’s what a Frankenstein is already, isn’t it?” And, doing Gene Wilder doing Colin Clive: “‘It’s aliiiiiiiiive!’” He considered the question a little more seriously. “I’d need to get a look at him. Maybe I could improve on the design, but I couldn’t get him up to your level. You came to me near-mint. All I had to do was unbox you and replace the batteries.”

“So you’d need other mummies.”

He barely realized what she was asking, because a part of him had been thinking along these lines all week: “Not necessarily. Ghosts, now there’s another story. There’s no body to restore; you just need to empower them to make a new body for themselves. And your better class of ghoul—” He tapped her chin and angled her face up to enable eye contact. She was smiling. “What are you thinking?”

“Well, I know some people. People from the scene, people we can trust. Some of them have a lot of money. And since I’m almost done—”

“You’re a long way from done, Beks,” warned Scofflaw. “We haven’t even gotten you eating yet.”

“But in terms of labor needed on your end, I’m almost done. We could expand. I could be the face and you could be the brains.”

“Hmm.” Scofflaw was silent. What had been the terms of the truce he’d laid out? “Reign in hell.” He should really stop communicating in allusions that he himself didn’t totally get.

Rebekshep sat up in the bed. She saw herself in the mirror in front of the vanity, pulled a wig—jet black—out of a drawer, brushed it straight, and put it on top of her head. She looked at herself naked, leaning forward and back, pouting her lips, sticking out her tongue, pulling her eyelid down to look at the blood vessels at the corner of her eye. She was safe for a full hour, now, before she had to rewrap. “I mean, come on, Saint,” she said. “I’m going to start aging soon, and as soon as one of your friends gets himself killed, you’ll be gone to some other planet where you’ll find some other ‘science experiment.’ Why not think big, while we’re here?”

“Because,” said Scofflaw. “Beks, you need to understand… when I think big, I think big.” He made a brain-explodey gesture and a little whoosh with his hands, which made her snort. “It makes me different. You might not like me as much, like that.”

She dismissed the warning with a flick of the finger. “I’m not scared of you, Mr. Supervillain. i’m going to talk to some people. In the meantime,” she said, turning back towards him, “I want to meet some of the other battlers.”

RE: Grand Battle S3G1! (Round Four: City of the Dead)
Siobhan’s investigation proceeded uneventfully. Every Tom and Jerry in this necropolis knew a Draco or two but a cursory Gurgle Search neatly narrowed the suspects to one lich – more specifically one dracolich. The banshee wondered why this one Zee-Cee L'écuyer would choose such a blatant pseudonym – especially since he was the only undead lizard around these parts. Lichdom and theatrics were joined at the hip, she supposed.

Siobhan encountered her fair share of lichdom during her career. The primping and preening immortals loved the media attention. L'écuyer loved the camera too but he loved being right and hated being wrong and got really upset if he accused of being latter. L'écuyer was eccentric, yes. Eccentric, arrogant, and corrupt, if Holloway spoke true. The more she thought about it, the more an interview with the dracolich seemed unappealing. Property damage notwithstanding.

There was got to be someone she could talk to.

Someone not as prestigious as L'écuyer but just as informative.


“Sorry, Professor Hedley is currently not available.”

The corner of Siobhan’s lip twitched. Hedley’s desiccated form was in eyeshot, slumped at a corner behind a ramshackle fortress of books and baubles. She looked as if she was asleep and should be ignored. The blanket kindly arranged around her certainly helped that presumption.

“Let me correct myself. Hedley is spiritually not available. No part my fault, her vessel was empty even before I started my tenure. I am Tengeri Nyoka and I suppose you would have to deal with me. Coffee?”

A mug of coffee was pushed into her hands. Siobhan stared suspiciously into the dark surface, trying to divine some answers. The serpent should have been another stranger to interview and to forgot but there was something off about her. Maybe because Siobhan heard about a quote – nice snake lady – unquote from Holloway, who heard it from Modelo. Still counts.

“What are you here for?”

“I’m here regarding the arrest of a presumed Living last week. Said Living displayed supernatural abilities, apparently ‘bursting into flames’ and injuring two police officers. This is big news and yet – yet – it barely registered as a blip in the news ticker.”

All color drained from the serpent’s face, which gave Siobhan some confidence.

“Got to hand it to ‘Draco.’ Covered it up real good. Almost. I can tell from your expression you had a part in this and I might have secondhand evidence to back it up. So tell me. Tell me. Did the man die in custody? Or not? Tell me now and maybe I can have a good night’s sleep.

The words affected Tengeri greatly, confirming her suspicions. Siobhan sympathized with her. There was an air of fatigue coloring the serpent’s words, her scales an ungroomed mess, and she clearly was not used to the art of verbal misdirection. In other words, Tengeri worked for the truth for truth’s sake, just like her, but Siobhan was not honestly not prepared for the string of words spilling from Tengeri’s mouth.

“…I know the man. Still alive.” A pause. “I suppose I have a lot of explaining to do.”

Siobhan held back her surprise. “No shit, Sherlock.”

“Lachlan,” the serpent turned to the ghoul Siobhan never noticed before. “Close the curtains and cover the cameras. L'écuyer…does not need to know this.”


Tengeri unloaded a lot of information onto Siobhan. Siobhan did her best to jot down notes but when she ran out of paper in her notepad and space in her recorder, she started to feel her task becoming a fool’s gambit. Forunately, the water-snake took notice of her woes and graciously allow her access to documentations, newspaper clippings, and other miscellaneous yet crucial bits-and-bobs. There was a lot of references to the point Lachlan had to help her carry them back to her apartment.

They were right. Tengeri is a nice snake lady.

Her apartment became an even bigger mess with the additions. Siobhan could now barely see the floor and she had to phase through the cluttered mess in order to reach the kitchenette. The banshee felt self-conscious about how much she sacrificed her quality of life in order to find the Capital-Tee Truth. Before she could ponder any further about her life situation, she heard a nearby tower of manila folders collapse.

“So, uh. Wow,” Jimmy sheepishly picked up the mess he made. “Five Living, huh?”

“Well, four actually. Two are dead. Jetsam’s a lich and Huebert’s, erm –” her fingers shot up and made air quotes. “ – ‘crossed over’ so to speak. Confirms my suspicions at least. Scofflaw’s missing in action but apparently up to no good. Tengeri’s fine. Tor’s working for Jetsam. No idea where TinTen is though.” She let out a sigh. “Going to discuss that with Tor. Tengeri put the good word for him at least.”

After some hasty preparation, Siobhan went transparent and rushed to the door. She briefly stopped in her tracks when Jimmy asked her a very important question.

“Siobhan, why are you doing this? I don’t like the liches any more than you do but shouldn’t you, like…leave this Living situation to them?”

Siobhan turned around. Her hair wavered under their own force. For a moment, she was not Siobhan the Reporter or even Siobhan the Wailer, but Siobhan the Banshee and a Banshee was a very ominous sight indeed.

“Can’t you see? They’re out of touch.”

In a rush of wind, she was gone.