City of Death - time uncertain
In the universe of Arling Tor, those who are dead generaly meet one of three possibile ends: they are damned for crimes against some god or another, they are honoured with a favourable afterlife, or they disappear. As a general rule, it wasn't entirely clear what happened to all these disappeared as the main reason why this would happen in the first place was simply because nobody important cared about them and thus they just got lost, but in the past few months since she had come to the City of Death, Coraline Henderson was beginning to get the distinct impression that a lot of them were getting eaten by sphinxes.
The eye taking up the entire boarded-up window, staring in at her through the cracks, belonged to a sphinx. It was the biggest sphinx Coraline had ever seen, and not having wanted to deal with a giant winged cat the size of a small building, she had holed up in an even smaller building in the hopes that it would get bored and go away.
It had been three hours now.
The sphinx hadn't gone away.
"Stories?" The voice of the sphinx rumbled for what might have been the 89th time through the walls, low and hollow, full of insistent anticipation.
"I already told you, I haven't got any stories!" Coraline yelled back irritably. This wasn't strictly true, of course - as a librarian she was full of stories, and she could always make up more - but she didn't particularly care to share any with a being that was being this rude.
"Stories," the sphinx said again, rumblingly.
"No," she told it firmly. This wasn't working. The sphinx had the door blocked entirely with giant hairy catness, and since all the windows were boarded up with something that might have been grey plastic, she was feeling a little trapped in here. And even if she could get out, she had no guarantee that the sphinx wouldn't just eat her on sight. She didn't think it would, but she didn't know it wouldn't, either.
But that wasn't her only option, now was it? She could just leave. The City of Death existed in layers, different versions of the City all piled on top of each other, and she had the key. Fishing it out of her pocket lint, she held it up between her and the eyeball. Even here in the sorry light of this dusty dream of a building, it gleamed, glinting off the strange lights of distant worlds.
Then she turned it, and the worlds turned with it.
She was somewhere else. Another building, another layer of the City. This room was full of... they looked like teeth. Hmanoid, even. Covering the floor, heaped in the corners, odd piles. She moved her foot and a pile settled with a shivering rattle. She put her foot back down and they crunched and squeaked underneath.
For the first few steps she tried to avoid smashing them as much as possible, but when that proved ineffective, she just tromped over to the door about as loudly as could be, causing ripples and toothslides throughout the piles, only to find the door locked.
So she kicked it a few times until it opened anyway. It apparently wasn't a very good door; considering how bad bad the footing had been with all those teeth there, she hadn't actually been able to apply very much force. Not that she was complaining.
Grumbling, she shoved her way out in a tumble of teeth and looked around.
Normal city, or at least what passed for normal around here. Gaping abyss of a sky overhead, buildings of seemingly random architectures scattered about, the tower towering overhead, streets interspersed with people coming and going. Defenders, mostly. Some of the lost. The odd others. Everything grey. Sphinxes leering down from rooftops, doorways, and sometimes the ground, eyeing passerby hungrily.
These sphinxes, though, were all fairly normal-sized. Cat-sized. Not the one that had holed her in the building. Not the Morokei, that had seemed so... no. She wasn't going to think about it. Thinking about things never helped anything here.
Instead she hummed and skipped down the road, the sphinxes turning their heads as she passed, a few hopping down to follow.
- ↑ Including worshipping them at all, in the case of one deity.
- ↑ She wasn't sure why she had the key, but then she hadn't really thought about it. In fact she'd generally tried to avoid thinking about most things since coming here. It was just easier that way.
- ↑ About that.
Heap of disorderly bits
None of this was real. She reminded herself of this often, or so it seemed, but as the sphinxes grinned in twisting spirals, glistening teeth barred and stretching around and around their bodies as the fur parted and the truth shown forward, she doubted, sometimes.
Teeth were supposed to do this. This is what grins were, were they not?
The lead sphinx abruptly stopped and gave her a disgruntled look. "You're not her," it said. The other two also stopped their curling grins, teeth fading back into luscious fur, and suddenly they were nothing more than three winged cats sitting in the road.
Coraline stared at them. This she hadn't expected. "I'm not?" she said. "Who am I, then?"
The lead sphinx snapped at her. She stared at it curiously. Nothing really happened for a bit.
EXT. Top of a ridiculously tall tower; City of Death
Coraline is standing at the top of the tower. She has her staff in one hand and is vaguely watching a solitary tree in the distance beyond the city walls.
The tree suddenly erupts and is replaced by an army. A very distant army. That is somehow still recognisable as an army.
Irked, Coraline shoots at it with the staff and is sent flying in the opposite direction off the top of the tower.
A BIT LATER - BASE OF THE TOWER:
Coraline is now lying on here back with a tentacle crab perched on her nose, staff lying on the ground nearby. Kyrule is standing behind her.
Coraline bats the crab off her nose and gets up.
Normally we allow them at least the illusion of hope, you know.
(picking up her staff)
Yeah? Er... what exactly happened?
The invaders were eradicated before they ever got close.
What about the tree?
The tree is as it was.
There is a somewhat awkward pause.
How exactly is it that you came upon such a weapon?
(holding the staff close)
He gave it to you?
(suspiciously, like a gopher)
Did he tell you anything about it?
Well... He said to have fun. And something about being careful, and 'if you accidentally blow yourself up I'm not cleaning up the mess, but seriously don't blow yourself up'. Apparently it's kind of a... dangerous piece.
That is a resounding understatement.
Kyrule vanishes in some sort of fancy special effects.
Right. Thank you for that assessment. Very illuminating.
She notices a nearby sphinx watching cautiously and hisses at it. It hisses back and waggles its head slightly.
And what do you want?
But there are always stories.
No stories here. Never any stories.
But the sphinx stares at her longingly nonetheles - it's the sort of longing dredged up out of unyielding despair, after all other hope had long since died.
Coraline sighs and looks around for something. A flock of fish drift by, but they don't seem particularly story-like. Finally she sorts something out and starts walking.
(gesturing to the sphinx)
Come with and I'll tell you one.
And then they all lived happily ever after. Or perhaps not so happily, especially after Frank got hit by a truck.
And nothing. It's the end.
(frowning at the sphinx)
Then everyone threw a party and ate cheese.
They ate more cheese.
Cheese suddenly became sentient and ate them back.
And then they were dead.
Coraline gives the sphinx a cross look. A soul approaches, one of the Lost.
The soul mouthes something wordlessly and flickers slightly. The sphinx hisses.
Again the mouthes something inaudible.
(shaking her head)
I don't see any eyes here.
The soul throws its head back and screams silently, a horrible piercing non-sound that fills every crevice and rebounds upon itself. The sphinx runs away. Coraline staggers.
Stop it! Be silent!
The soul stops, again flickering slightly, back in its original position as though it hadn't done a thing.
Coraline stares at it for a moment.
Yes. You were David Weaver.
The soul takes a step backwards.
How came you here?
The response comes all at once, bundled fragments that unfold slowly, but the soul itself is already fading.
Madness. Nonsense. Impossible.
World fell apart.
He was in the wall, half in, half out.
Wake me, please. Please.
And then it is gone.
There will be expectations.
There are always expectations.
Coraline is interrogating a sphinx.
(smoothing the base of the wings)
Do sphinxes have names?
(stroking its neck and ears)
What is it?
(scratching its ears; whispering)
The sphinx lets out a low growl.
The sphinx glares at her, then goes back to burying its face in her hand as she works on the other ear.
My Falcon, find the Betrayer in name alone. Bring her here, that we may end this charade.
Myrr bows her head, then teleports away.
So now the masks show face.
They don't come off?
Fuck if I know. I was just trying to sound appropriately dramatic.
INT. Hall of Judgement or something
Kyrule is looking godly. Coraline is sitting on the throne next to a sphinx; they seem to be having some sort of competition as to who can appear more bored.
Suddenly a wild Myrr appears with a Shalias.
MYRR OF SOULS
(she bows, and gestures Shalias forward)
Shalias zu Harenai.
Coraline starts to run forward, then stops to more carefully jump down from the throne.
Shalias watches expressionlessly, and glances toward Kyrule.
It's an honour. To see you with eyes, and meet and be met.
Er, I'm Coraline.
You. You are honoured to meet me?
Yes! Of course... I... wait, what?
Shalias smiles uncertaintly, like this makes no sense whatsoever. Because it probably doesn't.
Names have meanings, but names also hide meaning. To others, Shalias zu Harenai is known as the The Betrayer.
But that's just a story. That's not what happened.
But it is. It was exactly that.
It wasn't what everyone said. You were strong, youfound a way where nobody else could. You got here, and you found an end to it.
And I didn't choose it. I abandoned it.
Right, you saw something. Something made you choose that, something important, something that changed everything. I've been trying to figure out what it was.
(she shakes her head sadly)
I was wrong. It was nothing. For my failure so many others had to suffer, and it fell on you to do what I could not.
No, you really weren't. Even if you couldn't find it, there's definitely something hokey here. That's why I wanted to talk to you.
I don't know anything.
You do! Even if you don't know you know, you don't know what you saw, it could be useful. Somehow.
(she points toward Kyrule)
That's Kyrule. He's the God of the Dead, the Keeper of Souls. He's this guy who generally is and does everything that happens after folks stop living, and anything and everything involved with souls.
You did what I could not.
Aye, and I wouldn't be here at all had you done it. But I also wouldn't be here were it not for the decisions I made as well. Or something along those lines.
Don't be. You lived.
(a bit confused)
Not exactly. She is a demigod.
I am? Since when?
Since you came to this world.
Hold on. I feel like I should say something.
No idea, but something this momentous should have some sort of commentary.
You want weird? Suppose you took Hazz'ridan and Cthulhu and pitted them against each other in a deathmatch in a ring of jello. I don't know how that could possibly get any weirder.
Well, the thing with the City of Death is it's not really one City - it's a whole lot of Cities, all kind of right on top of each other, and I tend to pass between them quite easily, often without even realising it. Now that's fine if you're just walking around, but suppose you want somewhere to sit. And then suppose what you sat on suddenly isn't there anymore.
What, you aren't sitting on anything?
Yeah, it's not good. Now this space here, it's a good space, but the only thing really consistent, that always shows up, is the throne. Kyrule never really uses it, so one day I decided to pull an Alice. There was a sphinx sitting there, I plopped up next to it and was all like, "Hi sphinx!" and the sphinx was all like, "Grrrrr."
Shalias glances toward the throne and there is indeed a sphinx sitting on it watching them.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Rhi, the destroyer of worlds
EXT. Street, City of Death
Coraline is there, doing stuff. A little girl in a simple dress, RHI, appears not far off, not matching the decor, and certainly not matching the colour. She is facing away, but she seems vibrant somehow, more alive than anything in this place.
Upon seeing Rhi, Coraline immediately stops what she was doing and stands completely still.
Do not engage her.
I must. I'm sorry.
(aloud, and louder than before)
Rhi turns her head slightly at the name, then after a long moment, she looks back, looking almost confused. And then we see her eyes - they're blue, not just any blue, but a brilliant lurid blue that would drown the seas. Almost like a pair of big-arse LEDs.
Hey, little sister. What are you doing here?
Rhi opens her mouth and speaks, but the words that come out are mangled, disordered, coming in and over each other in a clattering of sound. It resembles a shriek, and whispers, all at once and trailing off. Whatever she tried to say is almost completely garbled, but we hear a few words - 'lost', 'back to the beach', 'wayfarers'.
Coraline understands - or at least acts as though she does.
I know. It's all right. We'll look after them.
Rhi speaks again, this time almost fearfully, and shakes her head. Only one word this time: 'again'. Then the mangled voices become more angry, possessive - 'not yours', 'them, 'safe', 'broken', 'No home!'. The last is repeated as it trails off once more.
Rhi, no. Don't do this. It wasn't you.
The responses come again in a mangled jumble - something about 'did this', 'broke it all', 'broke them all'.
No. No. It wasn't you. You started this, but you didn't do it.
Rhi shrieks and moves toward Coraline, advancing, gaining momentum.
Coraline takes a step backward at first, then stands her ground.
You knew, but you didn't know. It wasn't real, and when it was, it was too late.
The voices, the words, rise to a howling - 'wouldn't change it', 'nothing', 'too late', and other sentiments, too, lost beneath the storm.
I understand. No regrets.
Rhi slows, approaching now with uncertainty, and fear laces the lowered jumble of words - 'no home', 'no solace', 'empty', 'pigeons', 'destroy', 'break it', 'improper', 'little', 'little!'
It's okay, dear sister. I understand. You will face no more rejection in the houses of the Kings.
Rhi stops right in front of her and stares up at Coraline with her brilliant blue eyes. She seems almost hopeful, but the voices now are confused, querying, angry, not believing: 'deceiver', 'destroyer', 'breaker', 'break you', 'you who would do as them', 'gave us a flicker'... 'future'?
Kyrule appears at this point.
She speaks true, Rhianya of the Lost. Done is done, and it will not be held against you.
The responses tumble out as a cacophony, not stopping, full of rage and torment: 'Dark sister said', 'so simple', 'why?', 'you fools!', 'the others', 'this isn't over', and underneath, smaller than all the rest... 'thank you'.
Then it just stops.
(speaking normally, but with surprise)
You do care.
Of course, dear sister. And it is good to hear you with ears.
Though the others now write their own story, one of the Wayfarers you seek has been lost, his story ended. He is Aziraphale of Arikdirin Vak. You will know him when you find him, for I believe you have seen him before. Bring him peace.
You'll figure it out. Don't worry about it.
Rhi looks between them uncertainly, then lights up with a brilliant smile, positively radiating joy. She nods once, and suddenly vanishes.
(relaxing almost to the point of collapse with relief)
Fuuuuuuuuck. That was fucking terrifying!
(she starts flailing)
AAAA AAAAAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAA AAAAAAA AAA!
(she pauses for breath before continuing)
Fuck fuck fucking fuck!
Coraline holds up a finger as she catches her breath again, then continues:
Fucking fuckery fuck fuck fuck!
(she catches her breath again)
Okay. I'm done.
Was that really necessary?
(she stops, then suddenly yells:)
EXT. Somewhere - day
A party chases a runner. She's running a bit oddly, but very quickly, and they can hardly keep up, let alone gain on her.
She finally seems to be getting away, but then there is a yelp as she falls. The others catch up to find her putting a leg back on, the other leg still lying in the dirt.
Damn leg fell off.
The others mostly just stare.
(she gestures to the other leg)
Since you're here, would you mind passing me the other one?
One of them does, and then the slower member(s) of the party catch up as well, breathing heavily.
It was staring me right in the face all along.
The dead sister returns
Hello, Dark Sister.
Hello, Deathgod what wasn't mine.
Coraline pokes her head around Kyrule, and spots Rahah.
(surprised and uncertain)
How dare you! I'll slay you! I'll obliterate you in multivariate cheeses!
How dare I? I think not.
(she draws her sword)
You are the one who shall fall, you, who would have so very much audacity.
(also drawing her sword)
Oh, really? You're a vegetable! An incontinent lumberjack!
(she points her sword at Rahah)
I will smite you with righteous anger in the name of waffles!
Defiler of pancakes, for muffins, I shall cast you into the abyss...
...as the heathen that you are.
Your very presense is a scourge upon this holy place, like boiling cauliflower...
...broccoli, or brussels sprouts!
Mangler of quickbreads!
Stop this at once.
They freeze, suddenly unable to move, suspended as they were. Unfortunately, they can still yell at each other.
Worse cook than an amoeba!
Rahah vanishes in smoke, and in the same moment Coraline does as well. Then Kyrule strides forward a bit, going smokey as well, and suddenly he's holding each of them in a hand by the collar. He bangs their heads together and drops them on the floor.
Rahah gets up and shakes her head to clear it. Coraline just lies where she fell, then pushes her mask onto her forehead.
Ow, my pretty face.
(she nudges Coraline with her foot)
Are you alright?
Yeah, man, fuckin' A.
(she blinks and sits up)
I thought you were dead.
Rahah helps Coraline up.
I got better.
(she reaches out and touches Coraline's face)
And you, you too are alive.
I seem to be.
I mean, I didn't want to be dead. I wanted to be a firefighter.
Coraline rubs her head, then looks up at Kyrule, who is still towering over them.
You know, that actually kind of hurt.
Kyrule face-palms, or something to that effect.
You think that hurt?
Well, this skull, you know. It ain't built for that. Not like you and your ram horns.
Rahah bursts out laughing. Coraline grins.
It is good to see you with eyes, dear sister.
Aye, to meet and be met. It has been awhile, hasn't it?
A bit around, a bit in waiting. There and back.
You are you, aren't you?
Of course you are. I mean, sure, you died and became someone else, but we're all always doing that anyway, right? That's just life. We're never who we were, every moment dying, and from every death reborn. Or something along those lines.
Something along those lines.
He's gone, isn't he?
Rahah doesn't answer. A look of sadness crosses her face, probably diagonally.
Sherandris of Kenning Vos has passed. It is Isarra who now reigns king of Kenning Vos.
Rahah suddenly looks up at him, startled.
And she is right here before us.
As the mad god always said, we are not who we were.
Oh, he wasn't that mad. Mostly just eccentric, really.
Oh, he was totally mad. And mine. All mine!
And he will be again.
Of course! You'll find him. He ain't dead, just lost.
None of the madgods have ever been found.
There is a first time for everything. What will you do now, seeker?
Now? Well... really, I did not think it so far through.
You came here to rescue me from this life of suffering.
Some days. Never trip on a sphinx.
I don't really need rescuing as yet, but Vardaman, on the other hand... he kind of got stuck when you... er... died.
It was... kind of not good.
I am afraid I have little recollection of these events, especially nearest to my end.
When Vardaman and the Mad Dream ventured into the darkness, it was with the understanding that her light would protect him and allowed him passage. When that light went out, he was swallowed into the void, beyond even my sight.
I managed to get through to him with the Book, but there wasn't really a whole lot I could do with just words.
I just... I told him how to protect himself. To leave the world and make a shell from which nothing outside could reach, nothing besides a particular personal cue that he would define into himself.
It is the lock and the heart. How did you know?
Er... well, I've had a lot of time, and I've been remembering things.
No... you have seen more than you've remembered. You should be faded, gone, and yet here you stand...
(she looks to Kyrule)
It was you who kept her against the dark and held her into the world. I thank you.
Rahah bows to him.
He... yeah. Nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. Ever.
Rahah cocks her head.
People don't usually do nice things for me. More sticks and torches, usually.
(she waves her sword for emphasis)
Slay the beast!
Coraline suddenly realises she probably shouldn't be waving a sword around and puts it away.
You will know the way, Dreamer of Kenning Vos. Rescue the deathdealer, and we will be in your debt.
A debt already exists for what you have done for this family. It will not be forgotten, and what aid I can render is yours.
(she nods to Coraline)
Both of yours.
There's a bit of an awkward pause as they all stand around.
The rift is at Sanessee.
I rather... cannot, as it stands.
(she holds up a finger)
An idea, however - will you, Reaper, accept a gift of souls?
I say you are. I say this for an out, for I cannot go as a creature of power. Will you accept this gift of souls?
You're not really a Reaper, are you? I mean... that's just deresi magic making it look like it...
I have convinced the universe I am thus. Unconvincing it will take some time.
Very well. For debts paid and souls owed, I will accept this gift.
Her power gone, Rahah seems to shrink, fading more into the background.
Kyrule looks mildly annoyed, despite having no visible features.
Then I would need your aid once more, for I cannot walk the mortal realms.
Gray-black column, black-gold tower. Obelisk. Obelisk. What are the obelisks?
Some stories end badly. Nobody goes home in the end, there are no happily ever afters, and the matter is not settled. There are loose ends everywhere, but over time people simply forget and the entire thing fades away. These stories are buried. Nobody wants to tell them. They don't seem worth remembering.
The problem is, sometimes such stories are the only ones that are worth remembering.
Time passes, though there is no time, no change, no passage. Everything is still. Silent. A swirl of dust rises and falls, leaving behind nothing to mark its brief existence. Fish drift in and out of endless passages, glittering and turning with austerity. Shadows feast in the light. Layered in nightmares, a feline slumbers, wings rising and falling in a long interminable rhythm.
As empires rise and fall, names change and centuries pass, but in this place at the center of all worlds, where all things come to die, they have no meaning. In death and in judgement, all are the same.
She held up her key and saw in its silhouette the shape of the twisty tower, wreathed about the sinister black spire at the heart of the City of Death like the memory of a lover, not quite there, but never really gone. In its shadow, other shapes drifted almost into view, shimmering atop the City like a mirage. The other City. The one that wasn't quite there, but if you squinted properly you could sometimes see it, and if you didn't watch where you were going you could easily hit your head on it. At least she hoped it was that. If she were hitting her head on something else entirely, that would be somewhat concerning.
Coraline didn't know what the key went to or where it had come from, but at some point she had reached into her pocket, pulled it out, and absent-mindedly held it up to the light. It was then that she had seen the tower's Lover for the first time, matching shape for shape exactly.
Later, when she had discovered the stairs etched into the Lover's heart and climbed them, she had hesitated on the final stair because she knew full well that the point of monumental stairways was that you never got to climb them, not right to the top, and monumental as this one had seemed she was a bit afraid of what she might see there...
When she had looked back, the entire staircase, and the Lover itself, were gone.
And at the top she had found a tree.
This is the place to be for the end of the world show.
"It was like walking into someone else's story well after the fact, after everyone had failed and those who survived had already gone home, lived out their lives, and died of old age.
"It felt like trespassing on a cave-in."
Worst god in ages. So bad she got kicked out of the God Impersonation Guild. Died too much.
The champion drew his sword. Realising she didn't actually have a weapon, Coraline held up the sphinx she was holding in what she hoped was a plausibly threatening manner.
The champion paused uncertainly for a moment, then raised his sword and charged.
Coraline took a step backward and then, for lack of any better idea, threw the sphinx. It caught him full in the face, a hissing ball of fluff and claws and teeth and wings that scrabbled for a hold and immediately dug in. He dropped his sword and screamed, flailing at the cat to get it off, but to no avail.
A moment later, at Orin's gesture, the champion was standing beside him once more. The sphinx, with suddenly nothing to hold onto, fell to the ground, hissed at noone in particular, and skulked out of the circle into the nearest alley.
"Er, sorry about that," Coraline called after it.
Coraline looked back to the champion she had, apparently, defeated.
"You cheated," he repeated. "That wasn't fair at all."
"Oh?" Behind her mask, she gave him a confused look it was probably fortunate he couldn't entirely see. "I didn't even have a weapon, and here you come at me with this big old sword! Arguably that might be considered cheating too, then."
"It was a fair fight," Orin said, and bowed slightly to Kyrule. "Fair by the rules we agreed."
"Right," Coraline grumbled to herself. Rules. Whatever those were.
"My champion will challenge," Ghurasis growled, waving his own, a large orcan, forward. The orcan, large even by orcan standards, glared at Coraline.
She smiled brightly. "Great! Can I forfeit yet?"
"No," Kyrule said behind her.
"Okay," Coraline said, trying not to sound too noticeably disappointed. "Just checking." She rooted through her pockets in the hopes they might contain something useful, but only managed to pull out a large wad of lint. The orcan, in the meantime, hefted his axes and began sinuously twirling them, faster and faster, creating a devastating whirlwind of the sort which would probably decimate entire armies, were they stupid enough to get close.
The whirlwind moved toward her.
She sidled away along the edge of the circle, fiddling with the lint wad, and then, realising it was mostly just a single piece of string wrapped around her key, tied the two together and flicked it at the orc.
Somehow it worked - the string tangled in the axes, one of them bonked the guy in the head, and he fell sideways, impaling himself on the other.
She stared blankly. "Er," she said.
Then the orc was back by Ghurasis' side, intact and unbloodied. Coraline recovered and picked up the key, its string conveniently no longer tangled in anything, and moved back toward Kyrule.
Ghurasis bowed as well, much deeper than Orin had. "Your champion fights well, if... oddly," he conceded.
Coraline snorted, then tried to turn it into a cough.
Nausica's champion stepped forward and bowed to Coraline. She bowed back, surprised that apparently this basic courtesy was apparently somewhat at home in this world after all.
Then he shifted oddly, and became a strange blur of shape and colour. The blur charged at her. She dodged out of the way. It charged at her again, and again she dodged. Then she didn't dodge and just grabbed the guy, tweaked his nose, and then hurled him out of the circle.
She hadn't actually expected that to work. On the other hand, she didn't really know how powerful she really was, either. It was difficult to evaluate these things when all she ever did normally was sit around reading.
Then the champion was back beside Nausica, rubbing his nose.
"That was not necessary," Nausica said.
"Sorry," Coraline said.
After a long pause, Kyrule asked, "Have we any other challengers? No?"
"I challenge," Veshura said. "Let us observe the interaction between death and undeath."
His champion stepped forward.
Behind her mask, Coraline eyeballed it. The champion appeared to have once been an elf, but true to the ways of Velshura, in undeath it had since become a powerful liche, both befitting and yet very out of place in the City of Death. It rolled its head and smiled slowly, and Coraline realised it was a woman. Or it had been. Or something.
Then it threw back its head and raised its arms, and with them a small army of minions were summoned forth into the circle.
Coraline glanced back toward the book she had left by Kyrule's feet. Not a weapon, and probably not helpful, but it had been, on account of the complete lack of any prior notice about this... event, the only thing she'd brought.
Looking back to the circle, she watched suspiciously as one of the minions came up to her, but it didn't seem particularly threatening. Then, almost like a cat would, it rubbed bonelessly against her legs. She nudged it with a slipper and it jumped away.
The liche raised an eyebrow.
"Er?" Coraline said.
"They like you." The liche cocked its head. "That's not supposed to happen."
"It's not that unusual. Tame minions generally just ignored me in Ain, anyway."
The liche looked surprised, then said, "You can't be a necromancer. I'd know."
"Naw, just got basic coverage - corpse disposal, the odd dancing skeleton, you know? Illusion was my main."
"Under Asmodeus? What in the nine hells are you doing here?"
"That's a long story."
"You're supposed to be fighting," Veshura prompted flatly.
"Ah, yes. Pity, that," the liche said. "You do seem so lovely, for a living." It swept its minions forward.
Coraline grabbed one of them and smacked it at the others, fending them off amidst unhappy squawking noises. This went on for a bit, though it was clear than neither the minions nor Coraline quite had their hearts in it.
Then Coraline just sort of stopped, holding the minion in her hands up a bit as the remaining minions piled up around her feet and legs.
"Oh dear oh dear, I seem to be surrounded," she said.
The liche shook its head bemusedly. "They won't attack you. They just do not want to."
"Can you blame them?" Coraline asked. "I mean, I'm just so pretty."
"Perhaps not," it said, summoning up a cloud of horrible magic. "But I must defeat you."
Coraline backed away. She tried to remember if she knew any spells to try to fend this sort of thing off, but before she knew it, the cloud had settled all around her. She stopped, but nothing much happened for a bit. When nothing much continued to happen, she said, "Um."
Then she yelled, somewhat dorkily, "What is dead may never die!" and flapped her arms a bit until the cloud dispersed.
Her opponent was already shaping out another spell.
Clearly it was time to actually do something. Something. And she had just the thing.
She ran back for the book, flat out, then slid the last couple metres in an attempt to not go careening right into Kyrule. The attempt failed, however, and she bounced off what might have been his legs.
"Sorry," Coraline said, and grabbed the book, only to find Veshura's champion swinging a scythe of pure blackness at her. She ducked, dodged under the scythe, and ran for it in the opposite direction, back into the middle of the circle, in the process narrowly avoiding further swings and thrusts as spears of darkness jabbed into the space where she had been. Finally she rolled out of range entirely, book clutched to her stomach, and stood quickly, almost falling over again before she entirely regained her balance.
The liche was watching in desperation as she turned to face it, but it had already thrown everything it had at her. Coraline smiled, and opened the book triumphantly.
The song 'Everything is Awesome' from The Lego Movie blared out into the circle. She almost dropped it.
The liche just stared.
Kyrule cocked his head and said something unintelligible over the loud music.
"That's it?!" the liche yelled after a moment of utter loud possibly-awesomeness. "Why did you even go after that if it doesn't do anything useful?"
"I wanted to see if you'd try to stop me!" Coraline yelled back. "And I wouldn't call this nothing!"
"So what is it?!" the liche yelled.
"I have no idea!" Coraline yelled. "I'll let you know if I ever find out!"
The liche gave her a decidedly skeptical look, then just threw its arms in the air and retreated back to Veshura.
Coraline slammed the book shut and the music stopped. In the sudden silence, she realised her ears were ringing.
"Holy fuck," she said quietly. She could hardly even hear herself.
Another champion was coming forward - Alyre's. This one was a beautiful elven woman, who walked with an oddly sensual gait - odd because that normally was just not what elves did. The woman said something at her that she couldn't entirely hear.
Coraline smacked herself in the side of her head, and suddenly all the sound and noise of the City was bubbling up around her once more. "Sorry?" Coraline said.
"I said, this challenge will take no fighting," the other repeated.
"Great," Coraline said. "I hate fighting. It's a pain in the arse."
"Riddle," someone said. Coraline looked up and saw Neiryo's champion had stepped forward.
She did the same. "Riddle?"
"What's green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?" the champion asked.
Coraline stared. "A herring?" she said, utterly confused.
He raised an eyebrow. "Nobody has ever gotten that one before."
"It's straight out of Mirrormask! How could I possibly not get that?"
"What is your riddle, Coraline Henderson?"
"Well," she said, trying to think of something even less obvious than a green-painted herring nailed to a wall, but came up with nothing. Where was Google when she needed it? She looked up into the abyss that was the sky and asked a somewhat more standard riddle instead. "Poor people have it, rich people need it. You cannot eat it or you die. What is it?"
"Nothing." Coraline nodded, so he continued. "I have a hundred legs but cannot stand, a long neck but no head; I ease the
maid's life. What am I?"
Coraline smiled. "I preferred the 'eat the maid's life' version. Though that might have been a typo... it's a broom. What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?"
He stared at her. "Time..." he said slowly. "Time to get a new fence?" A sphinx dropped from somewhere above and landed next to him. It slinked towards him and started rubbing against his legs.
Coraline grinned. "Exactly."
"Why do guardsmen wear belts?" he asked.
"To hold up their pants, of course," Coraline said. "When is a door not a door?"
"When it's a jar." He tried to nudge the sphinx away with his foot, but it simply rubbed against the other one. "How many surrealists does it take to light a lantern?"
"Two. One to hold the giraffe and one to fill the bathtub with brightly-colored power tools."
He snorted, then looked confused. "Power tools?"
"They're like regular tools, but with power. What has an eye but cannot see, will kill but brings new life, and dies but never lives?"
"A storm. What has four wheels and flies?"
"A garbage truck. If you've got it you'll want to share it, if you share it you haven't got it."
"I can't tell you because it's a secret."
"Why did the squirrel fall out of the tree?"
"Because it was dead."
"This is going nowhere. Can I concede?"
"No," Kyrule said behind her.
Coraline grumbled, then turned her attention back to her challenger. "What's brown and sticky?"
"A stick," he said.
Or she could just get right to the point. "One of the gods here today has deceived the others. He has seen past and future, and in so doing, undone the ties that might once have bound him. Which is he?"
The other champion looked around at the circle of gods, but none gave any indication that it might be them. Finally he shook his head. "I don't know. Who is it?"
"Kyrule," Coraline said.
There was a stir around the circle. The other champion frowned, bowed, and returned to Neiryo's side.
"How?" Veshura asked.
Coraline held up a hand. "First, will there be any other challengers?"
The circle held, dissent echoing amidst the gods. It seemed they were done. She was the victor.
Finally, Coraline nodded. "You are all here because you answered a challenge, and is so doing, shown your willingness to step outside the normal bounds of the law," she said, addressing the whole lot of them. "The real challenge, however, is tied to the answer to that riddle."
There was another stir amongst the gods. Vaguely she wondered what Kyrule made of her randomly taking point like this, but once she'd figured out what he was actually doing here, it had seemed appropriate. It was, after all, based on her plan.
"Long ago, when most of you were still quite young, the god of Dream opened a portal to a horrible future. It was only through Kyrule's intervention that she was stopped with the aid of the other Powers. Thus he defeated and slew her, and took the pieces and scattered them throughout the realms, that she might never return. You all know this story. Some of you were there.
"But that is just the story. That is not what happened."
Kyrule and Eapherod had already gone through the portal. They had seen the terrible future, and participated in it, and did everything they could to avert the end when it finally did come, but in that future, it was already too late. They failed.
So they came back, instead, back to the present they had left, back to when there still remained hope. Only poblem was when they arrived they found a whole bunch of other gods pointing weapons at them asking what in the blazes was going on here? And the truth was completely ridiculous. They couldn't even quite beleive it themselves.
So Kyrule just sort of sidestepped the issue by pretending none of it had actually happened, and that what had happened was all Eapherod's fault. Totally Eapherod's fault. He was just here to stop her. Yes. Help.
Except he was a bit more convincing than that, obviously.
You know the rest. The unfortunate thing is that Eapherod is basically the only one of you who could even have stood against this end, and now she's all dead-like. Good job. Well played. Top kek.
"She's the founder, Kyrule. Everything I have learned and know is nothing to what she can do, because she knows it all."
"You're sysadmins," he responded.
"To put it in her words, yeah, it's like we're both sysadmins, but she's also a developer on the side. So we have the same rights; she'd just know all the nooks and crannies."
"But if she's so powerful," Ghurasis said, "How were we able to defeat her at all?"
"Because she let us," Orin said.
Kyrule issued the general challenge
We are not who we were. In every moment we live, we die, and from every death we are reborn. Our existence deforms the universe, through action and response, choice and consequence. Thus is the evolution of presence, and thus we live and change.
It is believed that souls are rather akin to stars - that they are simply patterns of dust that have over time emerged to form configurations of impossible brightness, repeating themselves throughout the universe.
In the Forgotten Realms, in their version of the Underworld, there's this wall around the City of Death, built of the tormented souls of the damned.
At some point I told this old friend on Kanata about it and of course he had to go and build one of his own - not a real one, obviously, but a scaled-down fence contraption of ordinary wall and holographic technology. Thought it was a right lovely idea to have this screaming, writhing mass of hopeless horror around his house, apparently. Neighbours thought otherwise, of course, but all the city ordinances in the system couldn't convince him to take the thing down, since technically it wasn't illegal. Classified as a 'standard annoyance' and that was it. Efforts to sabotage it didn't go anywhere either."
Then it got interesting. A few months later, a horse appeared out of nowhere in his bathroom. Wouldn't move. Resisted all efforts to remove it. Animal control agreed to take a look if he turned his wall off, found it didn't seem to be a normal horse. They called in a mage, found it didn't seem to be magic, so he brought in some priests from one of the local religions, who called the God Impersonation Guild, who called me, and I told them, 'yeah? So what? Who do you think looked at it in the first place and called animal control?'
I hadn't actually, but you should have seen the looks on their faces.
Anyway, turned out it was just some god who'd absolutely had it with godding so for some reason he'd decided to be a horse instead, but he didn't get it quite right. Refused to move any more than the planet did. And he decided to do it in this guy's bathroom, for whatever reason.
We wound up just moving the entire house out from under the god, since it didn't budge even with the floor gone. Seemed like a good enough idea at the time, and the neighbours loved it since it meant Gellin would be moving too, and since we left the wall there as a sort of creepy 'don't ask' sign... well, I dunno. Entire thing certainly looks strange in the middle of the night, though, that's for sure. Floating horse, eerily glowing, though now muted, wall of souls. It wasn't even a standard annoyance at this point, just an eyesore.
Just like art.
People often forget that the God of Death began his divine career as the God of Practical Jokes. They especially tend to forget that he never stopped.
Sherandris, of course, remembered. He remembered most everything, at least so long as he deemed it worth remembering, and since he wasn't really sure about the bulk of it and erred on the side of caution, that really did mean everything. For the most part. There had, after all, been that time he had spent dead - he didn't really remember that, of course. But he had been dead. Perfectly excusable, and as for the Duty, the Dark Sister would surely have seen to that.
Sherandris was the God of Death. He was not what most people expected, of course, but by the time it mattered, it really didn't matter anymore anyway. They entered his realm, what he called his Room, in the space outside of space in the time outside of time, and everything faded away. The dead were laid out according to the customs of the soul, and he passed them on into whatever next life was appropriate. And that was that, as far as he was concerned.
This left plenty of time for meat.
Sherandris rather liked meat.
"You weren't here," he said. "But I talked to you. Isn't it wonderful to have friends? They stave off the voices that come with the solitude."
"My agreement isn't requisite to my compliance."
A Very Useful Book
She ran her fingers across the spines, glancing over the titles on those few with labels. None stood out, in their myriad scripts, as anything particularly worth reading at the moment, though in this place she could undoubtedly have read them all. Biographies, manuals, catalogues, legends... what was she looking for? Was she even looking for anything?
Her fingers stopped on a spine that read simply, in flowing letters, 'A Very Useful Book'. She looked at it for a moment, then pulled it out. It was bigger than she would have expected, rather like a large textbook, but even so it had gotten her attention.
The first page was not an index. Instead it had a picture of a cat, curled up as though asleep, but with one eye open.
"Hello kitten," she said. The cat's eye closed.
She flipped through to a random page. It said:
This is what you were looking for.
She looked around. She was essentially alone with the books. Two keepers were in the vault as well, but they never paid her any heed but to move out of the way if she got too close. But even so, it felt claustrophobic, as though the other books were watching, waiting to see what she would do...
Sarathi de... a story, a game, an MMO, a webcomic, a crowdsource exploration project, a cursed world, a broken world, a myth, a legend, a bedtime story, a list of names scratched into a tree...
If the answer is what is it, the question is probably yes.
It shows up, time and again, in different places, different shapes. The ending is always different. Sometimes the lovers live happily ever after, sometimes everybody dies, sometimes those lost are found, and those found are lost. Sometimes there is a breadstick involved with disastrous consequences. Sometimes the little girl grows up. Sometimes it all just sits there and everybody ignores it. Complete box office failure. Dismal, said the critics before the onset of the end of the world, and then there was nobody left to prove them wrong. Game of the year. Oversized spores drifting all about, leading to an overwhelming question.
Do not ask what is it.
She turned the page and found the rest of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
After some time, Coraline realised she was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the throne at the head of the Hall of Justice, Book open in her lap, pages set to nothing. She didn't know how long she had been there, or how she had gotten there in the first place, but in light of what it had shown her, none of it seemed to matter.
The Hall was largely empty - no waiting sea of the newly dead, no throngs of petitioners, no assortments of general loiterers - just her on the throne and Kyrule and another arguing in front of it.
Kyrule had his back to her, but as a result she could see the other clearly - a handsome figure, large, well-built, and very brown. Another god, from the look of him.
She stood, and the argument stopped. Kyrule turned to look at her.
"And who is this?" the other said.
She smiled. "I'm the Librarian. Who might you be?"
"I am Orin."
"Honoured," she said. God of something all right, but she couldn't place what at the moment. It didn't really matter.
"How did she get here?" Orin asked.
And where was I before, Coraline wondered vaguely. Most of her mind was still on the story.
"She is my Hand," Kyrule said. "No aspect of my realm is barred to her."
"Death is a door," Coraline said dreamily. "Doors open funny places. The physicist used too many buzzwords, the lawyer not enough. I need a hat."
"Is that so?" She heard Orin say.
And then she was somewhere else.
"Alright," she said, "then I want steel-toed fanged bunny slippers, with thick leather soles and soft interiors that I can just lose my toes in. And I want matching wrist cuff thingies with claws, because they have to have claws. And a big fuzzy hat. With fangs. And I want it all in plushy black.
"And I want a really big sword, but not too big or heavy. I need to be able to lift it and such."
The shade bowed its head and retreated into the vault. The door thudded shut before Coraline could follow.
So she waited curiously, and then walked around the back. There was nothing interesting there, just a few odd rubbles and a dusty dog sitting on a sullen-looking shadow. It had too many legs, or possibly not enough; she couldn't quite tell for sure.
She turned around and nearly ran into the shade, its arms full, standing immediately behind her.
"Er, thanks," she said, taking the bundle. The shade disappeared into a passing flock of fish, and Coraline ducked into an empty building to investigate with more privacy.
It turned out to be a rather good set of things wrapped in a robe-like cloak, or possibly a cloak-like robe - she wasn't sure which, but it seemed like the sort of thing a Jedi might wear, if Jedi did grey, and that suited her fine. The contents were indeed pretty much exactly what she'd asked for, too, with a few additions - along with a disturbingly light sword and a set of plushy gloves, slippers, and hat, there was a tunic and amulet to match the robe. A uniform of sorts, common among keepers and guardians here, and also rather like what she'd seen priests wearing back in the world of the living. She wondered if the deathdealers also wore similar; Vardaman never had, but then again if he'd been visibly identifiable as such he would probably have very quickly become a serious embarrassment for the church. But Vardaman had always been a bit... different. She missed him.
Figuring what the hell, she tried it all on, fashioning a mirror on the near wall so she could see the effect.
The effect caused her to burst out laughing. She looked absolutely ridiculous. It wasn't just the irony of the uniform on her, it wasn't the overly large sword at her side that she had no idea how to use clashing with the ornate staff holstered on her back, it wasn't the fuzzy hat with kitty ears and fangs or the fluffy partial gloves or the fanged bunny slippers poking from her baggy trousers, it wasn't even her hair ballooning out from the bottom of the hat in a terrible staticky frizz, but simply the entire horrible combination.
It was, all in all, rather excellent. Horrible, but excellent. Grinning, she dismissed the mirror charm, stuffed the rest of her clothes back into her bag, and wandered back into the twilight.
There are no windows. No eyes. No silence, no default.
"There are no gods. No gods worthy of our freedom."
I hate that I love you. You either have a hideous heart and a beautiful mind or a hideous mind and a beautiful heart. I love what you are but I hate what made you that way. You have the logic and kindness born of rage and despair. What happened to you? Who did this to you?
This is Shalias. She is the one who came before, the one who failed.
She grew up in the shadow of her brother, Murias, and in the manner of little sisters everywhere, she idolised and hated him in equivalent proportions. When he went to find his fame and fortune, she went her own way, left behind with a religion that was somewhat out of place in those parts and an overwhelming curiosity that was only the more so
As the years passed by, she grew up in turn, but no news of her big brother ever came home. Soon, she would set out to look, to see what trail could be found and what had come of him, for how hard could it be? Zealots stand out, and Murias had ever been obessive. But before she could look into it, her own story took hold, and the mystery of what had happened to her brother would have to wait.
From the beginning.
Shalias knows the gods, and she's very astute. How did this happen?
The same way it always happens. Quickly, and without her realising until it was too late.
Standing at the base of the tower, Coraline didn't really know what to think. It was a tower. It was quite tall. It was the center of the deathgod's realm.
It was a tower.
She kicked it experimentally.
A solid tower. Very real seeming. Considering the fairly small size at the base and sheer height, probably not possible in the world of the living. Kind of a like a tree - a redwood, granted - but a lot taller and not nearly as interesting. It mostly just seemed to go up. It had a lot of bricks in it.
Of course it had a lot of bricks in it; it was made of bricks.
Coraline watched it suspiciously. Bricks were dangerous things.
At some point a sphinx stalked slowly into view around one of the curves, so Coraline tracked its progress, waiting for something to happen - maybe for a brick to attack it - but nothing did. The sphinx sat down nearby and started preening itself.
Coraline narrowed her eyes. This was all too obvious. Just a perfectly ordinary - if very tall and suspiciously bricky - tower and a sphinx. Nothing stood out, so clearly something should. What was it?
The sphinx belched loudly and shook some feathers out its wings.
One of the symptoms of those going completely yo-yo was that they broke out in chronic cats.
Coraline looked up. There was a sphinx preening itself on the shelf across from her, and another on what looked like an old record player. Another two dozed on the bookshelf. Several were scattered across the floor, clustered in corners. Like the entire City, the room was full of sphinxes.
One of them hopped into her lap.
Chronic cats. At some point, Kyrule had broken out in chronic cats.
Nature of the City
Coraline let the book fall open on her lap...
How do you even describe things like having three versions of the city, all sitting in the same time-space, right on top of each other, and if you look right you can sort of see them all, but usually you only see the one you're mostly in, but not always. Sometimes you'll just catch bits... something that isn't there, out of the corner of your eye, and then you look but it's not there, but then you really look and it is, and there's a sphinx sitting on it staring at you longingly.
It would be easy to call The City a place of uncertain dimensions. It would be a joke to call it three-dimensional. It wasn't really that they were dimensions, either, the three layers of city that, when put together, compiled The City. Neither did you really need all three of them to have a city, since they were all complete, and for that matter, they were all the same city. But only when put together did you truly get The City.
I don't think most people cared. They were used to the glimpses of the other cities shining through into the one they were in, only in the corners of their eyes, never quite there after all if you went to look closer. Sure, it could be a bit of a nuisance if you suddenly took a step and instead of just going forwards, you went into another dimension (though as I said, dimension really isn't the word you'd want to use), where the milk you had just bought in the local store turned out to be a whole month older and starting to have funny bits in it and giving off a rather unpleasant smell... but that usually didn't happen. Most people stayed where they were, or if they didn't, perhaps they didn't notice. The three cities were, after all, the same city; The City. Just... not completely, and not all the time.
Why is it only three? What of the shadows you see in the corners of everything, the variants and the fragments that don't belong? What of the other Cities, the hidden Cities, the ones that don't fit in, the ones... the ones that lie forgotten?
If I had to give a guess, and mind you this is only a guess, it has something to do with power. For Kyrule, threes are holy, they're everything, they're exactly what people see. And in doing so, they hide the others - three stand out so the other six or so can linger in shadow, adding force, but hidden. What people don't see is just as important as what they do. Perhaps more so.
"Hello Merrs," Coraline said.
He cocked his head, then recognition lit his expression. "Gloria? Hello."
"You look happier," she said.
"You look less lost."
She laughed. "Oh, I dunno about that. If anything I'm probably even more lost now. But I guess now at least I've got somewhere to be, so that helps. What brings you here, anyhow?"
"Ah, right. A message from my Lord, as were. To... your Lord?"
"Well," she said, "I don't know where he went."
"Naw, I mostly just mind the cats. Stay nice and clueless. You know. Health reasons." She grinned, then shook her head. "Seriously, though, whatsit?"
- fuzzy hat
From random soul:
Brought with her:
- bag of sundry random junk
- better part of Vardaman's liquor cabinet
Nature of the universe
Consider the universe. It is, by definition, all that we know, the totality of existence, the boundaries of reality. There cannot exist anything beyond it, because that would be a part of it as well - whether we know about it or not.
Now consider the multiverse: the idea of a multitude of universes, an infinite set of possibilities existing in parallel with our known existence. Other realities. Existence beyond existence, space beyond space, time beyond time.
But by the very definition of a universe, a 'multiverse' is impossible. The rest, the 'other realities', are also universe.
There are those who would name their universes. Their pockets of reality.
There is an inherent problem with this proposition. To name it, the name is replicated throughout all direct parallels. A name is meaningless for identification. Identification itself is meaningless.
This realisation can either help to clear things up, or to make things a whole lot more confusing.
Shalias again maybe?
"You bargained for your soul, and it returned to you."
"I had to go into the space between worlds and find mine myself. And when I did, do you know what I found? It'd glued its feet to the ground! And when I got close, it just swatted me away. When I tried to talk to it, it pointedly ignored me. I had to hit it with a stick until it'd even respond, at which point all it did was insult me."
"That... seems wrong, somehow."
"Yeah, well, that's what happened. And I was at a loss, let me tell you."
"So how did you...?"
"It was the kids. Showed up with that dog. That dog that'd been the crux of the entire thing. My other completely softened up at the dog, knelt down as far as it could go with feet glued to the ground and hugged the thing, and they both just went all melty. And then, well, then it was a matter of magic, and I knew what to do. Stuffed them back and taped everything all up and squish."
"Technical terminology, of course. Of course then it was all like now the hell what? 'Cause the door I'd taken in wouldn't have worked for going out, see."
"It went the wrong way. I'd taped up too much. Had to stay in the realms of the dead or it'd fall apart and the Death of Souls would start all up again. Wasn't a real solution, obviously, but... well, you know how stubborn I can get."
"But if you'd let it go, couldn't you have found a real solution?"
"You know, that's exactly what you tried. Our you, anyway. Let it back into the world and vowed to find a proper end for it. And everyone called you Betrayer for it, and yet you were anything but, held true and wouldn't give up even after going through such torment yourself...
"Kyrule never corrected them either, of course. Bloody gods."
"Holding omnipotence in your hands..."
"Sorry about that. Something came up and I just had to look-see for myself."
"Oh, well, you know. It's not every day that a giant horrific tentacle monster shows up. So I went to go say hi."
"...A giant tentacle monster?"
"We usually call him Hazz'ridan. One of our gods, see. Very fascinating. Very tentacled."
"And you went to say hi."
"Yup. I said 'hi', he said 'hi' back. I said 'nice tentacles', he said 'nice hair'. And that was basically it."
The Apheori is the eternal outsider, a dream that wanders off into the bushes to observe while the main story goes down. Sometimes the bushes get rattled, sometimes the Apheori is caught and forcibly dragged into the situation, but it cannot be held for long...
The other side
It began with a wall. It was not a particularly interesting wall, but it was there, in front of her, taunting her with its solidity, lingering, loitering, being a wall.
She stared at it. Such a wall it was. A wall. Walls were everywhere, of course, but this one, here, was in front of her now, and now was the pressing point. She didn't really understand the concept of 'now', of course, but is was clearly important, and since this was it, she spent it staring, now, staring at the wall.
It really was quite the wall.
She realised someone was near her. Saying something. She tried to focus. In fact the man was yelling quite insistently, and also, it turned out, vigorously shaking her shoulder.
She looked at him and he stopped.
"Hello?" he said.
She blinked. Words. She knew words. Words were what made worlds, breaking down object into concept. She had even used them from time to time, rolling their alien forms through her mind before sending them to the minds of others... except that wasn't right. She'd last spoken to some of the priests just the other day, telling them how... what? The word was there. She remembered it. But she didn't understand what it meant, even though she knew it well, and she had meant what she said.
"Are you even in there?"
"I think so," she said. The words came out before she realised what they were. They didn't seem right, but they were also correct. Somehow.
Thinking was new. She had of course always done it, and she remembered doing it, and every decision she had made and every action she carried out had involved some sort of thinking, but actually thinking and recognising it as thinking and having something with which to recognise it as thinking was new. Sort of. There was this niggling detail in which it wasn't, that it wasn't new at all and she'd done it all her life, and in many other lives as well, but that was in the past.
The past wasn't real. The future wasn't real. The present rooted her down, but it didn't feel real either. She'd never had a root before.
Except when she had.
She realised the man, the priest, was staring at her. He seemed to be waiting. He looked annoyed.
"Sorry?" That was the word. The expression.
"I said, do you know who you are?" He was looking at her with an almost worried-looking expression now.
"No." And it was true. She didn't. She should, she felt, but she really, really didn't.
"Great. That lumps you in with pretty much everyone else in the entire universe, at least who's stopped to think about it." Shaking his head, he amended, "Wrong question. I meant to ask if you could tell me your name. That's what it was."
She recalled what people had called her. "Rahah."
"And do you know where you are?"
She didn't, but said, "The Sanctum of the Temple of the Mount."
It was apparently the right answer, because the priest nodded and held up a hand. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"I'm thinking of a number."
"No you're not. You just think you are."
He closed his eyes for a moment, then tried again. "Rahah," he said. "Are you the Dark Sister?"
He took a deep breath, nodded, and left. Rahah stared at the wall that closed behind him.
It was Alice who finally got the Dark Sister to get up and leave. It had also been Alice who had maintained the Temple, Alice who had kept the priests together, Alice who had taught them how to mourn, and how to move on. Their god was dead, but Alice was very much alive and she wasn't about to stand for any of this moping around and despairing. The place wasn't going to fall apart on her watch.
Alice broke the initial news. They had all felt it, of course, his passing, but that didn't mean they believed it. It didn't mean the confirmation was any less important. She strode out into the sanctum like a queen on wheels, commanding the attention of the entire hall. Priests and petitioners looked up as one as the space fell silent, waiting, dreading.
"Sherandris is dead," she said. Her voice filled the silence. "The Lord of Death has passed. We are kingless."
Nobody said anything. Most just stared, some looked around, or shuffled their feet. Then the whispers started.
Alice cut them off. "Priests! To me. We have much to discuss," she said. "For the rest of you, go home. There is nothing for you here."
Most did as she said, moving toward the door in a bemused trickle, whispering, wondering, worrying. A few stayed by with questions, and as she ushered the priests back into the sanctum Alice did what she could to address these.What will happen now? How can the God of Death die? Are you sure it wasn't an impersonator? Will the passage of souls still... happen? Will there be another? What of our petition? I... brought cookies.
"What?" Alice said, unsure if she'd even heard the last one. She'd been operating mostly on autopilot, trying to reassure folks, tell them everything would be all right, that things would work out, but not really sure of anything.
It was Malla, from the pastry shop on Birches. "I brought cookies," Malla repeated, holding out a box. "I just thought it'd be nice, and I had no idea anything, any of this, was going to happen, but I think you may need them now more than ever, so, here." She stuffed the box into Alice's impressive arms and turned to flee.
"Wait, Malla!" Alice called after her. The baker paused and looked back, so Alice continued. "Thank you. I'll make sure they're put to good use."
Malla smiled nervously, nodded, and hurried out.
And soon rest had likewise vacated, leaving Alice standing alone in the middle of an empty hall. She had never seen it so empty; it had always been so full of life, full of people and light and chatter. Even when she'd fist been hired into the position, the place had been far from empty. Sherandris had welcomed her personally, gave her the tour, introduced her to the folks...
Eighteen deathgods had ruled over this hall, and eighteen times it had stood empty, waiting for a successor, leaving a caretaker standing alone in the vastness...
The statue over the throne had wings out and up. The symbol of beginnings. The first Aspect of Death, at least to the Cenva. Sherandris had explained a bit about it when he gave her the tour, that there were five Aspects to each token, the shape of which the statue would take if only it were calibrated to do so. But the means to do that had been lost long ago; even he was unsure how to do it...
Shadow under stone
EXT. CITY OF DEATH
Kyrule does something grand, appearing dramatically or something.
Coraline is nearby and isn't really paying attention, and is subsequently knocked down by the blast.
She rolls over slightly and starts to get up, but then notices an odd cobblestone and instead tips it up for a closer look. A shadow pokes its head out indignantly.
What you bothering me for?
What are you doing down here?
I LIVE here, you know.
Down there? Doesn't that get dusty?
The shadow glowers at her.
Meantime a group of Damned are trying to stand up to Kyrule. They're not doing a very good job of it, but one of them throws a shoe at Coraline. It bounces off a nearby cobblestone, then the shadow suddenly darts an appendage out and devours it.
Coraline finally turns around and looks at the lot of them.
...the torment of the Lost!
(yelling after him)
Oy, I'm not a Lost, I'm a lunatic!
Hollow words change nothing.
You have taken a step too far, and a sentence can change.
Coraline starts to get up.
Don't you talk to them! They'll ruin you.
(pointing toward Coraline)
And that? Endless torment, not knowing what they are, wandering and alone, is that really justice? What sort of sentence is that?
One chosen and taken, thankyouverymuch! You got a problem with my wordage, you take it up with me.
You're trapped in a prison with no end. Do you not see it?
Trapped here, really? That sounds dreadful.
So Damned that they cannot even see their damnation? You take everything from them!
(raising a hand)
Technically I think that's the sphinxes.
Spot on, for a live-er.
That do the taking. They take the stories, and they take the worlds, and the dreams, and everything that folks have, and then there's nothing left but a wandering shell. Except with most folks, that's all they are in the first place, isn't it? They just make up pretty stories to cover it up because they don't want to face what they are, but take that away and really nothing changes. Just a bit more honest, or something.
Coraline is not one of the Lost.
That's what I said, wasn't it?
You really expect him to listen to you? Not likely.
She is counted among my Honoured Dead. What she chooses to do with her time is her own accord, though it may not exactly...
Look, love, if you've got a better idea, you say it to my eyeballs, yes'm?
Do you even remember who you are?
Remembering more by the moment. Forgetting more, too. It's all good, though. Ain't no living without dying, or whatever it was the old man said. I'll sort it out tomorrow, once I find the book. It's around here somewhere.
This is insane. You cannot possibly think this is the proper way forward.
Proper? You want to talk to me about proper, King what doesn't even know a Dark? Not that I'd know, either. Hells, I suppose I'd not even know who I am, if it came to it.
That's nonsense, and you know it.
(slinking toward Coraline)
A dark, you say? I might know a thing or two, you know.
Oh, really? This shadow seems to think otherwise. Bright creatures, shadows. I dunno why nobody ever listens to them.
Usually because they don't know we can talk.
What are you doing here, Emissary, really?
Waiting, of course. That's all I'm really doing, you know. What comes after, why, that's a whole other story.
Then you should find that story. It matters even now.
You can't rush these things, you know.
Aye, you can't rush these things. We have all the time in the world, right until it runs out. But you know that. You were there when it did run out. It why you're here now, knowing entirely too much for the situation. It's why you were named, a King who cannot be.
You can't know that.
Of course I don't, but dreamers dream what they will. More on this later when I find my mask. If I find it. I hope it won't be asking too much... will you... catch me if I fall?
None will fall here if I do not will it to be so. You will be safe.
Wills falter in the dark. I do so hope you're right. Or I will, if I ever find out what I'm talking about.
Why would you fall?
Meanwhile the other two damned start to pull away from the entire situation.
(pulling on the other)
Hey, come on. We should get out of here.
Because I must, of course.
(shrinking back into its hole)
When you do, I've got room here. Cozy down under.
Cutaway - show stuff while talking - story?
A story of stories.
Your story, sweet soul. You remember only the loss, the sorrow, only the hunger, not the story.
We see the sphinxes, filling the City of death, perching on arches, languishing in corners, waiting and lolling. They look hungry and insipid. One pounces on a passing Lost, but there is no heart to it, simply a thing to be done before slinking back to a corner and waiting. Always waiting.
But though the hunger defines you, though now, you are simply here, and you have always been here, and you hunger, it was not always so.
Once, you had a home, and you were not alone. You watched the skies and you basked in the dreams of the Dreaming God, soaking in stories and secrets, drowning in the lies that made the worlds true.
But the dreams dried up. They simply stopped. They were still there, of course, but with Dreamer dead, there wasn't anything left to gather and keep them in that library of hers, so they became sparce and ephemeral over time, and they could no longer sustain you, and that is when the hunger started, and grew. And grew. First you did not know what it was, for it was unlike any of the stories you'd seen, and then you did not know what it was, for it was unlike any of the stories you could still remember... and then you did not know what it was, for it was unlike anything you knew. Except you didn't know anything anymore, for there wasn't anything left at all.
Only nothing. Nothing at all but hunger and emptiness, nothing but the hunger that spread, and spread, and could not be sated.
For the first time in a thousand and a thousand and a thousand years, you were alone, truly alone.
Everything is grey. A sphinx falls into dust and blows away.
And then something changed. Something shifted. A presence. A story. He came. The grey man, the man with the stories.
The Dead Master.
You were drawn to him, out of your corners and crevices, out of the the depths of the Dreamer's realms. You came forth. He had meant to drive out out, but you would not be driven, not by him. Him, you would only follow. His story, and the story reflected, the story of the reflected story, drawing and calling and bringing you and your brethren out into the worlds.
When it comes down to it, it's all stories. And dreams. Because stories are dreams and dreams are stories.
That was the problem, wasn't it? Stories get lost. Pour over them too many times, and they deteriorate, they fade away. You needed new ones. Fresh ones. A steady supply, and that dried up, so you went over the same ones again and again until they fell to pieces, until everything was forgot, even the very need for stories itself.
Shush, dear, dear fearsome soul, dear dead one from the empty lands. These are important men. One of them's a Keeper. Let them try what they must and be patient, for a bit.
There was no patience in the world before the world. What the folk wanted, they would have, for they could imagine it and it would be there. There was no hunger, in the time before time, but for one: the hunger for something new. Something more. Ideas were made and realized and they filled the world, which grew and grew, and -
One day, there were no more ideas. The world was full of everything that could be imagined. Imagination had run dry. The folk had grew weary of the hunger, purring within them, but they were tired. They could think of nothing more to sate it with.
Story for the lost?
Well, then... here's a story I ain't told nobody.
Shhh. It helps, so let me finish.
The sphinx subsides a bit.
You've seen my story, but do you kmow why I'm here, in this place?
"Sherandris sent me here, to this 'verse," she said. "He asked me to do something crazy, something utterly insane, and noone could know, and I agreed to it for the very same reason he asked. For her." She shook her head. "He was willing to destroy himself for her. All I had to do was survive, and maybe it would work.
"But really I don't know why I'm here. I don't know how it was supposed to help, or what the hell Sherandris was thinking or if any of this had any chance from the start... but... but I am here. Thing is, I'm here because I trusted him, and that's really it."
Oh, dear sphinx... you would have a story, would you? Because there is a story I can't quite figure out. It's all told well enough, but I just don't buy it.
It's the story of a woman called Shalias. They call the Betrayer, the one who turned against her god and condemned a thousand thousand souls to torment. She began simply enough, a wizard dreaming of power and greatness. But unlike many wizards, she had family that tied her down, and she knew what it was to love...
The Black of Midnight
Coraline opens the Book, then looks off into space at nothing in particular...
(mimicking Sherandris' speech patterns)
(she pauses, then her voice turns sad)
There is no home but for heartbreak. We travel and we move and in time, things pass, but nothing that was returns. All that we may ever have is gone. All that we may ever accumulate is loss. I do not know...
Coraline looks down at the Book, and words and images swirl into view on the pages, then out and around, swallowing her into the archives.
INT. A SPACE
Coraline finds herself sitting in a space, surrounded by voices and shapes and scenes. This is Sherandris, all his silliness and life and love. And darker things, too. Everything that he was, secreted away. Everything that he had needed to forget.
Coraline touches a memory at random, something flittering by. It depicts a scene...
INT. Temple at Nriya: main hall
The hall is mostly empty, but two figures are arguing near the Totem: Sherandris in brilliant colours, and Athyria, wreathed in light. Despite their colour, none of the light and life Coraline would have seen when she had been there is present in the hall itself, for it is filled instead with dust and weight and tired shadows.
Why did you have to do that? It couldn't be you!
Who else would there be? A thousand years, and a thousand thousand, and none would come. The gods are done. You have seen their end, and they would leave you to your death.
And now it will be yours!
Maybe. Maybe not. But I will not live to see your end.
You bastard. I cannot lose you!
You should have considered that before you made your challenge.
The scene fades back into the space...
INT. THAT SPACE BACK TO 'NORMAL'
Snippets of voices drift by.
Is this it, then?
Where's your hat?
Coraline looks around, surprised.
Book. Where am I?
Init. Root. Standby and commence. Secure. Init. Secure.
I don't remember.
(she looks around)
Show me something specific.
The background of the space fades away, waiting.
Show me... brilliance.
EXT. Bright field full of flowers and butterflies - day
There are flowers and butterflies everywhere. It's pretty and bright. Sherandris is standing in the sunlight, basking in the warmth, eyes closed, content.
Then the butterflies start acting crazy, flying higher and higher. Then the sun is gone. The wind is rising, calling, howling.
The butterflies are gone. Darkness shrouds the fields in sudden unnatural stillness.
Sherandris opens his eyes and they gleam in the dark, but otherwise he does nothing, instead just watching. Waiting.
Finally he looks around.
And then there is a horrible blinding sound and a horrible squelching light and the world is no more.
INT. Some university conference room - Day
A graduate student is doing a thesis defense, standing at the head of a table, with a large box in front of him and a scientific-looking poster on the wall behind him. Various professors are around the table. It is very important, and very serious.
...and because of the variance in the entropy, we see that we need to spend another twelve hours to achieve stability.
Cool? That's it?
It really is, though. You can see by the elongation of the tusks that real progress is being made here, and this isn't something we've seen since the Nether studies.
Is this related to the Nether studies? What basis are you using for the shapes?
If you'll continue, you'll see that the...
A tentacle reaches out of the box.
There's a sense of more to it, but this whole thing makes Coraline distinctly uncomfortable and she pushes it away.
Then she's back in the blackness. Then another swirl of memory is carrying her off once more...
INT. Temple at Nriya: Inner sanctum
Sherandris is standing by a sofa, staring off into space. A priest is standing nearby, not really doing anything, having forgotten what he came in here for.
Sherandris pulls a muffin out of his pocket and takes a bite, still staring off into space. The priest frowns at it, and Sherandris notices and glaces over and offers him some as well.
The priest shakes his head.
Sherandris shrugs and finishes the muffin.
(to the priest)
You may want to leave.
You came in here to get your coat.
The priest goes and gets his coat and leaves.
Athyria appears almost immediately after.
You return. Come to argue further?
Past is past.
I came to apologise. And to free you.
This was my doing. Everything that led up to this, I have done. You are mine, Sherandris, and I cannot let you go.
That is not your call. I won't let you.
Fight me, by all means.
They fight. It is strange and black, and very little actually happens. They move about a bit. Sometimes they throw dangerous energies at each other. There is much struggling. At some point, Athyria grabs a spear off over a doorway or something, and swings that at Sherandris, trying to get a thrust in with its strange black blade...
He fashions a pair of swords out of pure darkness to parry her away, and for the most part it works, but she is twisting about, getting further and further ahead of him, until finally she skewers him right through the chest. In doing so, however, she is also stabbed through the stomach.
Athyria's eyes widen in surprise. Sherandris just looks sad.
Goodness, is that my pickaxe in your gut? And is this your pickaxe in my eye?
Then Sherandris explodes into black smoke, and Athyria begins to fall forward before doing the same. And then the smoke is gone.
The spear clatters to the floor. Sherandris' hat drifts down lazily, its great size and bulk notwithstanding. Everything else is just gone.
Coraline picks up the hat, and the scene begins to fade...
Coraline turns and suddenly finds herself facing something dark and gleaming. It looks like nothing she has ever seen, and thus immediately catches her interest.
She touches it. The space goes black, then explodes: Voices. Worlds. Shapes. All of the madness and depravity and horror, all of the emptiness and loss, the silence and cacophony of everything, and nothing at all. So much pain. So much. Everything is pain and noise...
...and suddenly she's leaning against an old tree in a field or something. A trickle of blood is running down the side of her head, and she reaches up to touch the wound...
The explosion of worlds and voices and pain and noise is still there, rising in its persistence, but it's muted, hidden behind the random scene of summer. Voices that almost sound like crickets, or perhaps the other way around. Memories playing out in the clouds. Souls in the grass's swaying. Leaves rattling with the bones of worlds. Time throughout it all, huge, huge and immense, and utterly, utterly meaningless, swept aside, under the mossy carpet.
Everything is black, behind the colours. The colours are brighter than they have ever been. Voices and memories are everywhere. It is too much.
The tree and field fade away into the noise. Noise, and blackness, and noise.
She gets up slowly, uncertainly. Something hit her, and she's not sure what. But now she's no longer Coraline - her form is that of a cenva, and all around her are deathgods, old ones, ones she'd never even heard of, and newer ones too - Sherandris is there, in resplendent colour, and another, too, whom she recognises clearly. Herself. Coraline, with her long white-blonde hair, brilliant green eyes, and an expression of strange recognition growing on her face, almost nostalgic...
Our Coraline, the Coraline who isn't even Coraline at the moment, finally manages to look away. Amongst all the others, the shadowy forms of the deathgods that are nothing more than memories, is another figure, too, growing out of the black noise. It becomes the unmistakable form of the Dark Sister, a form that nobody ever saw, and nobody ever recognised, a black against a darkening grey...
Welcome home, Nelanor.
And then the black noise overwhelms and there is nothing left at all.
It begins with a fish. It's sitting at the top of a tower, hovering overhead like an unexpected cloud...
EXT. City of Death
Coraline is lying unconscious at the top of the tower. The hat is next to her, as is the book, which is open to a page of incoherent scribbles.
She stirs, rolls over, tries to get up, and fails. Then she looks over the edge at the city - really looks.
It is not the city we know, except it is. But now it's full of colour, swirls of it filling the space, explosive blooms of it growing up buildings. And now it's coherent, the different versions, the different layers, the cities on top of cities, are all together, all on top of each other, all visible, fitting perfectly together. Throughout it all, amidst the colours and the layers, pass through all the souls as swaths of light, and sphinxes, trailing stories behind them, and fish, and shadows, and a soft, soft snowfall of... well, it's not quite certain what.
It's all a little too much and Coraline kind of passes out again.
Vardaman rescue rescue
Coraline shadowsteps to meet Zhorah (Rahah) and Vardaman immediately as they appear. Zhorah is basically holding Vardaman up.
Coraline tries to peer into his eyeballs.
Vardaman doesn't really respond to this.
He is broken. Full of shadow.
The other gods appear around them in various clumps, curious as to the distraction.
Kyrule winds up in front of them.
Zhorah hands Vardaman over to Coraline and goes to address Kyrule, bowing.
My lord, it is not good. He is lost, as is. I may attempt to recover him, but there is... risk...
Meanwhile Coraline sits Vardaman down and takes his head in her hands.
Vardaman, if you don't respond, I swear I'll fill your brains with emus.
Hi. Welcome back. Please bear with us; we'll have your mind back in a jiffy. In the meantime, would you care for a puppet show? I made some puppets.
She frowns, getting out a puppet, as something shifts. She can see the brokenness, the splotches of dark. They look familiar, like stains, like shifting... what happened is so clear, shaping his madness, bringing him to this point, tying him in place.
I did this...?
And then she takes him into Midnight, a sort of half-step sideways into nothing, letting go of everything. Everything, even the Death of Souls.
She almost panics, but then she's there and it doesn't even matter anymore, because here, nothing matters. Nothing is. Everything is. And the black is obvious. Coraline spreads him out like splatter, everything that he was and is, and amidst it all, it stands out gleaming, black, clear as night, shouting into the wind. So she draws that in, devours that, feeds it to the Death of Souls, pulling that right back as well, and then... then it's done. She's back. Back into herself. Back in the world. Back, and bound, and broken.
Vardaman isn't responding any more than previously, and Coraline peers at him curiously before hauling him up to his feet.
Vardaman still doesn't respond.
Zhorah and Kyrule stop and turn to regard them as well.
Then Vardaman suddenly recovers himself, pulling away, drawing his sword.
Coraline steps back uncertainly.
Vardaman throws his sword, impaling it in Coraline's chest.
Coraline stumbles and falls to one knee, and paws at the sword blankly with a hand.
Vardaman suddenly realises he's impaled Coraline and not some shadow thing and runs over to her and tries to stabilise her, holding her up.
Fuck, what, Coraline?!
(finally getting ahold of herself)
Agh, no, I'm fine. Just... pull it out, will you?
Coraline puts a hand on Vardaman's and smiles.
Look where we are. Perfectly fine.
He looks, taking in the strangeness of the City, the forms of the gods around, the manifestation of Kyrule looking on even then...
Welcome back, my dearest Deathdealer.
Now will you pull this fucking sword out of my chest so I can fucking hug you?
I did not see this possibility. I miscalculated...?
There are three 'material planes' in Arling Tor. These are generally referred to as the realms of the living, though really the living tend to find ways to live most anywhere. Each is a universe in its own right, with thousands of worlds, and myriad galaxies, and more, and more.
The first is Cerris. It is a realm of magic and laws and harsh balance. The planet for which the realm is named is notable only for its gates and a small bit of history; there are other, much more significant, civilisations out amongst the stars. Of these, some built their own gates, while others interact with the other planes only through the petitioning and machinations of the gods.
The second is Ord. It is different, bigger, somehow, and far more dangerous. In many ways it parallels Cerris, but where Cerris' development has oft been retarded through war and cataclysm, the magic of Ord has proven far more volatile, and far more useful. The lifestream behind the worlds sustains and balances, and there are as a result, shall we say, many more workarounds available in Ord, and the civilisations there have grown and flourished over time, intertwining together to create vast networks, the biggest of which is known as Volundris. That is not to say, of course, that distinct and isolate civilisations do not also exist amongst the Ord stars, but these too develop in similar fashion.
The third is a question mark. It seems... to be missing, for some reason. Nobody is quite sure what happened to it, or what was supposed to be where it isn't. Nobody really wants to talk about it. It's an uncomfortable topic, for whatever reason.
How does a realm go missing?
The gods vary. Some are very big, and go by many names. Others are much smaller, with spheres of influence distinct to an area. Others still are not gods at all, but scam artists, or rabid foxes, or large rocks. The grawl would have a field day.
Try to gather them all up, and where do you start? Daru, the self-proclaimed god of gods? Most do not answer to him. Many do not answer to any at all. Some answer only to their wives, who they found at a garage sale. So perhaps start with a place, instead, random and isolate, but specific. Here, then. These are the gods with influence here. These are the gods who might randomly decide to have influence. These are the gods who will also influence elsewhere. There are bigger ones, of course, whose names are known throughout the realms, but even they have no monopoly. And then you have the petty deathgods, who answer to Kyrule. The fragments who function as the masks of Eapherod. The ones who aren't god of anything at all, and yet somehow show up time and again. The god who isn't even a god, but simply something far darker, something that will occasionally choose to take the form of a god, but only if properly amused.
They're called 'mirror universes', or 'shatter universes'. Each one consists of various fragments, sometimes referred to as 'planes' or even 'dimensions', that could each perhaps constitute an entire universe in its own right, but that are all tied together through some overwhelming connection.
I think so. Overall, it's mostly just Ord and Cerris as the primary fragments. These would be the real universes, whereas the rest seem to be a more... secondary pile.
In your case, the connection would be Arah.
Secondary? Universes can be any size at all.
They can be infinite and empty.
They can be smaller than a single grain of sand, and yet full of more than anything at all.
Size is relative. You cannot define an outside size for something that has no outside.
We are outside.
We're inside. Inside each. This is simply another.
This is the space between them.
Midnight isn't a universe. It exists in all, but outside of all as well.
Alternately 'lost', 'wanderer' etc?
"Nelanor," he said.
Coraline awoke suddenly.
She was in a street, standing flat smack in the middle, with no idea how she had gotten there or what she was doing. What was this place? It looked like a city. It was all so familiar.
She shook her head and looked around. This... she knew all this. She was here because she'd failed, run out of time. This was the City of Death, and she had bound herself here as a way out, a final hack to save herself. Solving the curse of the Death of Souls had failed, so instead she had taped it up, drawn it all into the depths of her soul and nullified its effects by the powers of the outer planes. But in doing so, there had been a price - she could never leave. The moment she did, the enchantment would break, and the curse would be relinquished once more into the realms of the living.
It was all very final. Rather horrible, really. But for her sacrifice, Kyrule had named her his Hand. The Hand of the God of Death.
The sort of thing that goes down in history and lingers in the City for eternity.
Coraline had no intention of lingering.
She needed a way out. And a proper solution, not just leaving and letting someone else deal with it, at that. A way to resolve the Death of Souls entirely. Something that, unlike the previous attempt, would actually succeed.
This time, however, she could actually think. And this time she had all the time in the world to see it through.
WARNING: USER IS INSANE
WARNING: USER IS INSANE. PLEASE TURN TO PAGE 61.
She checks the page. The number is -214. She turns the page.
The new page says,
WARNING: USER IS INSANE. PLEASE TURN TO PAGE 61.
This page is -213.
She turns the page again, flipping ahead a bunch, but the new page is still only -212, repeating the same message. She sighs and goes back to turning one page at a time. -212. -211. All the while, USER IS INSANE. -210. This repeats, and repeats, and repeats.
Two hours later, she finally turns to page 61. This one, finally, is different, with no words at all and instead a silvery mirrored mask cellotaped to the page. It's a half face, with a depiction of closed eyes instead of eyeholes. Much of it is inlayed with delicate scrollwork, but only where it aids to the mirrored effect, reflecting different patterns amidst the patterns. She looks at it suspiciously for a moment, then pulls it off - is proves surprisingly heavy, and almost 2mm thick.
"Pretty," she says. It really is, and in a way it resembles Kyrule's mask, but not - his is filigree, hers solid, and yet somehow they have a similar visual effect...
She turns it over a few times, and then tries it on for a moment. It fits almost perfectly, but for whatever reason it's a bit cold. The metal on her skin just doesn't quite feel right. With a little padding, on the other hand... she pulls off her fuzzy kitty hat and slips it into the back of the mask, willing it to fill the space. It does, shifting and rearranging itself, becoming the back, the interface. Her side of the mask, the side that is all Coraline.
She turns it over in her hands, and nods. This, this is right.
She puts it on again. This time it needs no holding. Once on, it becomes as though a part of her face, fuzzy and warm, but not too warm. And despite the lack of eyeholes, now she can see - the City is clearer, the colours still there, but with more focus - and she realises that her headache is gone, like a weight inexplicably lifted, despite not even noticing it. It had been so low and persistent she hadn't even noticed until now.
She smiles. "Here I am," she announces to noone in particular.
Let us tell a story, then, of a wanderer crossing a vast wasteland. She hunts the mystery, though it is not here. Here, in this land under the broken sky, there is only shadow and shimmering fragments, baked land and frozen ice merged as one.
No living thing may venture here, but demons know it well. They know to avoid it.
She walked around the shattered spar that tore up through the earth, paying it no heed, for it was large and unimportant, like a piece of bad toast. She walked on past the perfectly cylindrical holes gored into the dust, past deep ravines and toppling hills, past icy yuccas and woolly ribcages. The land was strange. It was burly men unfolding umbrellas. It was a thousand dancing lemurs switched off in a single instant. It was a pack of singing llamas as they flew by a maintenance tower one evening. It was vast, but small enough that she already tasted what she was after. It was clearly around here somewhere.
Regional deficiencies for toast can be one sided, but here the toast flickered in and out of the lack of sky. The wanderer ignored it completely and picked her way past an endless set of matching teaspoons.
And then there is was, just ahead, with only a pigeon in her path. A space. Thin. Rippling. Undeniably forward, as much a way in as it was a way out.
Unfortunately there still remained the pigeon, which was a problem. It stared down at her with the sort of unnerving stare that only a two-hundred-foot tall pigeon could manage. She stared up at it in turn, not really thinking, just waiting.
Finally, she said, "Hello, pigeon."
The pigeon stared at her.
"I would like you to move, please."
The pigeon blinked at her.
"Any time now."
The pigeon stared down at her.
"I have got all day, you know. Can wait as long as you need. I do not particularly need to be anywhere."
The pigeon continued to stare down at her.
"That was a joke. There do not seem to be days at all here."
The pigeon stared.
"I really would like you to move, however.
"Before someone gets hurt.
"By which I mean you."
The pigeon stared at her.
She waited for what seemed an appropriate amount of not exactly time before continuing.
"Very well, then."
There was a horrible crunch as the pigeon disappeared.
The wanderer belched and made a portal of the rippling space. She stepped through, out of the world and into another, and then there was only silence.
What's to understand? We're all dreaming, and we can't wake up, so we change the dream instead. We tether them together. It's simple, in rather the same way that infinite ravening nothing is simple.
VOICE OF KYRULE
When you performed the arbitration, did you think it was simple then?
Exquisitely. Either you were worthy, or I had screwed up. And I determined that you were. Hazz'ridan isn't, though. I've put a flag next to his name. All of his names.
VOICE OF KYRULE
And how far will you serve?
To the end of everything, unless there is reason not to.
Our purpose is to protect. Everything.
VOICE OF KYRULE
I don't understand.
I know. But you will. And you won't lose yourself over it, this I promise. I will not take away your heart.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You may live to regret that promise.
If you wind up killing me over it, you'll owe me a leg.
Much, much later:
INT. Halls of Valour
There's feasting and boasting and all that stuff. Sherramah is chatting with a random Defender, weirding him out.
Coraline sidles up, gnawing on a leg of meat.
Oh, hey. How'd you get in here?
(drawing his sword)
How dare you steal a key to the Halls of Valour!
Hey, hey, I didn't steal anything! I was given it.
What, by a demon?
No, by a fourteen-year-old girl in a rift in the Between, if you must know.
Yeah, calm down, already.
Kyrule appears beside them (cloaked man) and turns to Coraline.
Kyrule offers her a leg. It appears to be human or very similar, tied off neatly at the hip, and not necessarily organically made.
Coraline takes the leg, surprised.
Well, so were you.
Sure seems to be.
She made a promise.
He said I'd regret it. I told him that he'd owe me a leg if he killed me over it.
I guess we've kept our promises and honoured our debts.
(she stuffs the leg in her pocket and turns to Kyrule)
But you see now, why I did what I did?
And you were certain that to show me your way...
It would destroy you. Whatever would be left, it wouldn't be you anymore.
But what can be done?
Coraline gets out the key, smiling.
It turns out there's a story about this. Remember what Eapherod said...
She turns it and they both disappear.
Yay, they're finally collaborating. I don't know.
What... was that?
(like she's reading it off a card)
It's called Punishment. Any Damned who raises a hand against the Eternal, his servants or his city, will be Punished. Any Damned who disobeys the Honoured will be Punished.
She glances over at Coraline.
Punished?! It's... it's agony.
Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice. Coming here... serving Kyrule. This is not what I expected.
It's how it is.
It's not all bad, though. They've got good sausages here.
You're the one who loves sausages.
Well, er... what do you like?
Nobody makes it here.
What kind would it be if it were the one you'd love the most?
Good luck finding that.
I have my ways. And means. Ways and means. Means and ways.
That assumes you even survive.
Sherra, does that also apply where I should disobey? If I do something I have to do, regardless of... what people say?
What do you mean?
If someone orders me to do something that goes against everything, even if it goes against the Eternal himself, and I refuse, am I still Punished?
We need to test it.
Just tell me to reveal a story. It doesn't matter what. I could even interpret it to be something mostly harmless...
Please, just do it. If it's you, at least I don't need to worry about anything else happening...
Sherramah shakes her head.
Sherra... of all the people in this world, I trust you the most.
Tell me a story. One of the secret ones.
Coraline remains silent for a bit. Something presses on the back of her mind, nudging her to comply.
The world explodes into searing pain, and Coraline drops into a kneel before Sherramah, unable to move, to speak, as it wracks her mind for what feels like eternity.
It's over a moment later. Sherramah is holding her, shaking her, crying.
Coraline whimpers and collapses into Sherramah's arms.
Why? Why would anyone do that?
For the choice. It's important they have the choice.
Sherramah stares at her.
Fuck him! This isn't justice, it's just... cruel!
Sherra, Kyrule damned me for cause. I brought this on myself. Don't bring yourself to my level. Don't risk...
What, don't risk my own soul? For words? If words are all it takes, then maybe those words need to be said!
"If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth."
Fuck. You may not know why you're here anymore, Sherramah tae Phaeremaia, but I am glad you are.
Well, you have certainly made an impact. The gods are in an uproar about the servant who stood against them all.
That's done now. I'm just the Hand.
Perhaps, perhaps. But you have made yourself allies, sweetling. Allies for Kyrule, and... others, too. He won't deal with me, but perhaps you still will...
(she glances at Sherramah)
And you... you were an oddity. Do you even know why it was that Kyrule wanted your soul?
Sure. I was to be a bargaining chip. A hostage. Except he couldn't damn me, now could he? Not after the life I'd led...
But I do not serve Kyrule. Only Cora.
She asked me if I would be willing to go. She only released the others after I said no. She didn't even care about holding onto them. She could have just sent them without even thinking, but she still asked first if I wanted to go too.
Then we are in agreement. She has earned our respect.
A group of Damned has gathered and is making noise and stuff.
Coraline strides into the group, hand on her sword, hiding her uncertainty.
Souls of the Damned.
And just what the fuck do you want, Defender?
It is the will of the Eternal that you disperse. Please, do not make this harder on yourselves.
One of the Damned behind her, Gregg, tries to hit Coraline. She grabs his wrist before he can and suppresses the Punishment.
He stares at her in surprise.
Why would you do that? You know you will be Punished. You know it won't accomplish anything.
For principle. You insult us, I will strike back. I don't care what the price.
Coraline lets go and nods.
I might do the same.
Strike me, then. There will be no Punishment.
Gregg looks at her uncertainly.
You are angry. You all are. I am offering you the opportunity to take out your anger and rage without fear of retribution. So strike me, if you will. Harm me. Have your revenge for all the injustices met upon you, for everything you have endured since you have been here.
Another, very large, Damned soul clomps over and pummels Coraline across the face before she can respond, knocking her over.
Coraline gets up quickly and nods.
When nothing happens to the large guy, a few more strike out at her, and then they all set upon her, punching, kicking, stabbing. She gets up at first as she can, but then they need to hold her up, and still it doesn't stop. Finally she falls, and they give up on that, too, kicking her viciously as she crumples before them, bleeding ash. She cries out occasionally, but holds the Punishment from all of them.
A few of them cry, and others yell as they attack her. Some do both.
Finally it dies down as the Damned souls relent and silently scatter.
Finally the others are all gone, leaving Coraline alone on the ground, crumpled and ashen, broken and bleeding, only Todd remaining.
Todd kneels next to her, turning her over carefully.
But you're hurt. So badly. How are you even...?
It is nothing to the agony of Punishment. I know. I've been there. Powerless, hopeless. And when all you have is anger and regret, how can you ever find peace? The rest that you deserve?
We don't deserve rest. That's the whole point.
Everyone deserves rest. Everyone deserves an ending.
Coraline gets up carefully, painfully, and Todd helps her. Her wounds are already healing.
Thank you, dear heart.
(shaking his head)
Who are you?
Coraline almost says The Mother.
The... Hand of Kyrule.
EXT. City of death - courtyard
Coraline drops her outer robes to the ground, and her weapons, and her marks of rank. She drops the key last, twinkling silver glancing down.
Then she steps forward, on and over the pile.
(shouting into the city)
I'm done! Kyrule, I'm done! I will not serve you, and I take back from you my oathes and my name! I will not be yours! I'm done with you!
The words bounce back from the buildings around. Some passersby peer over curiously.
Sherramah watches confusedly from around a corner.
Come out and face me, you fucking coward, you tyrant!
Again, the words echo, but there is no response. Curious passersby stop to watch, but none get too close.
Oh, what the fuck are you doing?
I, Coraline, priestess, reject Kyrule. I reject him and all that he stands for. I reject the teachings and the stories and even the name. I take back the words, the rituals, the sacrifices given. I take back my own name, for Kyrule is dead, and he is not mine.
Now Kyrule appears, grey, monolithic, towering behind her.
How certain you must be, to go so far.
(turning to face him)
I know what you are, what you've done. I go as far as I must, now release me, dammit!
She kneels down, placing a hand on the ground, building energy into a spell, but looking up defiantly.
You should know better than to test me.
Test you? After what you did to Eapherod? After how you slaughtered Peledeska? Atrocities on top of atrocities, and you have built yourself a fucking empire out of an echo chamber. She would have been so disappointed in you before, but this?
She lets go, and a shockwave bursts into the ground, rumbling outward as a low wave in the stones, gaining height as it goes.
You cannot even see what is right in front of you!
It knocks over some of the watchers, Sherramah included.
It hits the buildings. The first ones topple. The next ripple and most of those topple as well. It continues outwards, as more collapse, shudderingly, stilling.
Those knocked down get up uncertainly.
The silence as the dust settles is ghastly.
A long chain settles around Coraline, wrapping around her arms, chest, and legs, searing into the bare flesh of her arms and cinching them tight to her sides. It lifts her off the ground as she gasps in surprise, the ends trailing around her like ribbons.
She winds up at about head-height to Kyrule, a good three metres off the ground.
I release you from my service.
Coraline hangs, waiting, masking her surprise and fear.
Your judgement will be made unweighted, for your service, for your betrayal, your actions and choices in life. Your own atrocities, your lies, your friends and allies left to suffer. And now you would condemn an entire world.
I will not allow this.
You can go fuck yourself. With a cactus.
You are judged False, a traitor and a murderer. You will have no redemption.
He begins to turn away, slowly, ponderously, like a large boulder.
I don't want redemption, I want you to listen! Why won't you fucking listen to me?
He doesn't know what you are.
What? Agata? Of course he does.
Are you... real? Are you here?
He doesn't understand. Like you, he's too certain of what he knows, even though it's false, and contradictory, and incomplete.
I'm trying to tell him. But I don't know how.
And this was your solution?
Names, as long as you wear that mask, he can't see you, and you can't see him. Look at him proper. Let him see you proper. You're a con, so use what's right in front of you.
Coraline shakes her head uncertainly, but the mask is firmly attached, so she then concentrates on the mask, telling it to come off, let go of her face for a moment, and it does, tumbling down to the ground with a clatter, gleaming.
And the world comes flooding in, brilliant, blinding, full of colour and madness and layers, other worlds, possibilities, pasts and futures. Before her, Kyrule is a blinding star, a searing point of too much history and power and quiet fury, overwhelming. She cannot look, but she forces herself to regardless, trying to sort through the hugeness in search of something, anything she can use, even as she feels her mind unravelling at the edges.
Then she finds it.
Kyrule stops in place.
A shadow lingering around the memories, edges unseen.
Why did you kill her? It wasn't just because of what she'd done the first time, in the other timeline, was it? There was something else. Something scared you about her. You did see it...
Your attempts to get into my mind will not succeed.
The brightness overloads into searing pain, and Coraline tries to crumple, to escape, but the chain prevents her, holding her up, straight, in place.
She screams in utter agony.
Finally it starts to fade.
My Lord, thank you. But forgive her, I beg of you. Let her stay, let her...
She has made her decision, and I have made mine.
Sherramah is below her, kneeling before Kyrule, pleading with him. A large calico sphinx, AGATA, is seated next to her.
My Lord, she has wronged you, but please...
Sherra, go away! Just let me go. This isn't your concern!
(angrily losing all her prostration to yell at Coraline)
Not my concern? Not my concern?! You tell me you need to go do something stupid, and you go... what, you challenged the Eternal? I don't know what, or why you did it, but you're my friend, you idiot! I can't just let this go!
Kyrule raises an arm slightly, and points a long, cruel sword at Sherramah, its tip almost touching her chest.
(she struggles to get free, straining against the chain)
No! Don't hurt her, she is a Defender of your city! She had nothing to do with this!
At last, something you genuinely care about. A tiny morsel of truth in all your lies.
Damn you, Kyrule.
Karoliina Hämäläinen. Tell me, what was the purpose of all this? What did you hope to achieve?
Will you listen, then?
Kyrule says nothing, but withdraws the sword, balancing it on its point and resting two of his hands on its hilt in front of him.
Coraline raises an eyebrow, surprised, and takes a moment to think.
All around us the worlds are falling to pieces. The universe of Arling Tor is shrinking, coming apart at the seams, but you can't see it, and you wouldn't listen. You didn't take me seriously when I tried to tell you as one of your servants, so I... I tried something else.
So all of this was nothing more than to get my attention.
I can understand you wouldn't believe me, but you must.
How am I supposed to believe anything you tell me?
(peering up at Kyrule imperiously)
I could kill you, you know.
Coraline gives the sphinx a dumbfounded look.
Look, there's more to the worlds than what can be seen. What we see with eyes, or what we sense with our power, or whatever, it's all limited. Only by making a composite of it all can we even get an idea of how vast the universes are, but you have to look at the inconsistencies and figure out what, what could cause that. Use your maths.
And that cat, she probably could kill you if she tried. She wouldn't, because she's fucking lazy, but there is that possibility there. Isn't there also a possibility that there's more going on in the universe than you know?
Something I cannot see.
Accept the possibility. That's all I ask.
Such as the source of the Death of Souls?
Yes! Fuck, yes, exactly that!
The chain loosens, and Coraline drops back down to the ground. The chain coils at her feet, leaving behind strange white burns on her arms.
I will consider this.
Kyrule disappears in a curl of darkness.
(half pointing after him)
Wait, did he just...?
Sherramah slaps Coraline, hard. Coraline just stands there for a bit, not reacting, still pointing vaguely.
A bit passes.
Your pet deathgod is learning.
So he did just... thingy? I didn't imagine that?
Are you... even paying attention?
Er... not really. Sorry. You're right, you know. That was pretty dumb.
Coraline goes to pick up her stuff, putting it all back on. Her sword is gone. The rank marks and colours on her robe have changed, now smaller, more jagged, an off green. She pockets the mask and the key, and then grabs the chain and pockets that as well.
And I am glad you showed up. I think that was the only reason he started listening.
Because I intervened?
I panicked when he threatened you. I guess it showed my bluff.
All things considered, I think this went rather well.
You have a strange definition of 'well'.
Fuck you, cat. You weren't in my head when I totally lost it.
If I had been, perhaps you wouldn't have.
Eeeeh. You were when Kyrule shot my brain.
It should have killed you. That was his intention, I think.
(rounding on Agata)
...well whose fault was that?
Are you sure it didn't? Death has a pretty strange meaning here.
(she nudges Coraline)
(she indicates Agata)
This is my cat.
(she indicates Sherramah)
This is my friend.
Introductions usually include names.
Agata peers at Sherramah curiously for a moment, but then nothing really happens.
I'm Agata. She usually calls me 'cat'.
So Agata, she didn't mean any of that? It was all a bluff?
Kyrule is a tyrant. I stand by that one. I call it my batmoose.
See, I still have no idea if you're being serious or not.
Deadly. Deathly. Deafly?
I'm gonna to go kill some invaders.
I think I'll join you. If you'll let me.
EXT. City of death - the broken Wall
The high wall around this layer of the city is toppled in a large gash, though it's largely filled with rubble. Defenders are gathered at the edges, both behind and beyond, and man the nearest towers at all times.
Sherramah and Coraline climb over the rubble onto the plain beyond. Agata stalks slowly after them, loitering on a particularly large rubble.
Here there seem to be three main groups of Defenders, ground soldiers with all manner of weaponry of the worlds and ages.
A few Defenders nod at Sherramah and Coraline as they approach one of the groups, but then quickly avert their eyes, mostly from Coraline.
Sherramah stops next to one of them, and Coraline nearly runs into her.
This nutjob's pissing me off. I need to clear my mind.
And I've honestly got nothing better to do than follow her around, you know?
Sherramah rolls her eyes.
The Defender frowns.
The Eternal must want to keep you close, sentencing a Damned to defend his city so.
Wait, that's what these colours mean?
(quietly, leaning over to Sherramah)
I wonder what it says about us that neither of us even realised...
We need to get out more?
Handler, watch her. We will be engaged soon.
Agata flaps overhead, gaining height, headed for an encroaching shadow on the plain beyond.
Coraline grabs Sherramah's arm and yanks her out of the way as a giant rotted fish smashes into the ground where she had been standing. Around them, more fish are raining from the sky. The Defenders scatter.
Sherramah and Coraline throw up shields to block several more of the fish, and around them many of the other Defenders are doing the same, until they have something of a bubble overhead harmlessly deflecting the fish off to the sides.
Then the enemies are upon them, loping hordes reaching for and lashing at them with teeth and claws and unhinged joints, maws on all parts, cruel barbs hanging loosely.
Coraline drops her shield and runs to the front to join the others directly fighting, fending the invaders off with fire and death. She is considerably weaker now than she had been before, but she still has a little of her former power.
Sherramah holds her shield against the continuing fish, but dodges around the fray healing some of the others at the same time.
Agata swoops around, grabbing up minions and devouring them whole.
A more humanoid insect thing lunges up out of the ground, taking out several Defenders in the process, sending others flying, including those previously right at Coraline's side.
Coraline looks around, surprised by the sudden open space, and it sweeps a pincer at her, which she blocks with a shield and pushes away, before running in to touch it to take its life. But it doesn't die when she takes her hand away, just slows, and a strange silveriness clings to her fingers, drawing out of it like strings of molten cheese.
Coraline pulls harder and then the connection breaks and the creature collapses and falls to dust.
The silveriness in her hands disappears.
Then she's fighting along with the others again, throwing fire at the twisted minions.
A fish falls with a splat next to her.
We need to fall back. There's too many!
The survivors generally agree and do, withdrawing back toward the wall.
The invaders slow, then still, and the Defenders, too, stop, until they're all just sort of standing around.
Coraline takes the opportunity to blast a bunch of the invaders.
The challenger comes.
The challenger appears: a lithe elf, well-dressed, completely out of place amidst the twisted, monstrous minions. He pets a few tenderly as he passes, approaching the remaining Defenders beyond the wall, and then stops a short distance away.
His soul is broken, sad. To Coraline he looks almost like a small child.
You all have... fought. Now who among you will face me?
Immediately several Defenders step up to fight, facing him down, a few by themselves, and a few other groups. For the most part they fall quickly before his stilleto sword, maybe getting in a few tries, but to little effect. One group manages to actually hit him, but then gets wiped by a small shockwave.
After that nobody really tries. The remnants hang around before the wall, and those behind remain where they are and watch.
The challenger blasts a couple more who happen to be standing nearby.
Coraline walks over toward the challenger.
Seeing she isn't even armed, a Defender passes her his sword as she passes.
Coraline stops in front of the challenger.
The challenger smiles, amused.
You're not even a real Defender. Damned soul from a damned city... you will fall like the rest.
I'm sorry you feel that way.
The challenger points at her, and several minions reactivate and lunge at her, but she fights them off with the sword.
He dances toward Coraline a moment after, flourishing about, weaving intricate patterns of thrusts and feints and parries. It's all Coraline can do to fend him off, and even that seems to be a losing game. Relying only on her years of training and practice, she deflects and avoids most of his attacks, only resorting to magic blocks when she has no other choice.
This goes on for a few minutes, her shadowborn speed and foreknowledge keeping her barely ahead, when the challenger lands a blow, a light slash up her arm.
Startled, Coraline jumps back, the ash from the wound leaving a light trail in the air, and he spins around and dances after her, piercing her stomach.
Coraline shoves him back with a blast of force energy, knocking him slightly off-balance, but he recovers quickly, pirouetting around her, slashing out. She fends off the first few attacks, but then he comes around and slices through her sword arm, through the bone, and then even into her side.
Coraline falls to her knees as her arm falls to the ground, ash drifting down around it.
The challenger steps back.
Coraline forces herself back to her feet with her remaining hand, though she's unbalanced and bleeding heavily.
The challenger sweeps his sword back and forth, slicing through Coraline's body, and she starts to fall before collapsing instead into ash, which drifts down slowly into a small pile.
(addressing the remaining Defenders)
All of you, the chosen Defenders of Kyrule, and you couldn't even put up half the fight of one lone Damned soul. Pathetic, really.
Sherramah grumbles and heads over toward him.
Ah, so perhaps you don't all give up so easily!
Sherramah ignores him, and instead stops at the pile of ash.
You insufferable idiot!
Sherramah kicks the pile of ash as hard as she can, causing a small cloud of it to poof out.
She turns away, not even addressing the challenger, and stomps back toward the city.
Hey, you... wait!
Sherramah continues to ignore him and keeps going.
Don't walk away from me!
The challenger raises his arms behind her, building up a powerful spell, but then Kyrule (four-armed skeleton) manifests between them, facing the challenger.
She ignored me!
You have failed, Doug. Go home.
Doug and his minions disappear with a poof.
Where would I find the insufferable idiot?
Well, that... is an answer.
INT. Halls of the awakened - damned section
So I never did tell you what I was in life.
Coraline wakes up suddenly, sits up even more suddenly, bangs her head on the top bunk, yells in pain, and blasts at it with magic, exploding the entire bunk set in every direction.
Coraline grumbles, rubbing her head.
A caretaker runs in, looking around to see what the disturbance was, and then sees Coraline and the exploded bed and comes over cautiously.
What... just happened?
She just woke up.
But... she's a Damned. They shouldn't have the power to... to...
(getting up properly)
Sorry. That wasn't exactly what I expected.
Sherramah starts shuffling Coraline out of there.
No, the other thing.
And who are you?
Some Defender, very important, got to go.
They hastily get the rest of the way out before the caretaker can come up with an actual response.
EXT. Some street somewhere else
Coraline and Sherramah stop under a large, grey, potted tree in a terrace thing.
Coraline sits down on the terrace.
Agh, I don't feel so good.
Yeah, they usually keep you there a few spans to get you properly on your feet.
What, now you tell me?
As a Defender, it sucks, but they at least try to be nice.
You're Damned. You don't want to stick around for that.
Besides, it's completely pointless anyway. Some physical therapy to get us back on our feet? Why don't we just get up and get ourselves on our feet, hmm?
Anyway, what I wanted to tell you... I wanted to tell you who I used to be. So you don't go thinking I'm all perfect Kyrulian either.
You hang out with me. Obviously not.
Don't make me smack you.
(waggling her hands)
Oh, scary Defender is all scary!
Sherramah smacks her.
(sitting down as well)
I said some words after you died, you know.
I believe the exact words were 'you' and 'insufferable' and... hmm, what was the other?
I'm sorry, what was it you wanted to tell me?
Oh, yes, I remember now. 'Idiot'. The other word was 'idiot'.
Coraline gives Sherramah a flat look.
They get up and wander onwards for a bit.
I was a servant of the Ungodly Light. But I was also a healer, which was unusual. Other followers rarely approved, but for Veshura, it didn't matter. I sought power through sacrifice, and she gave it. What I used it for after was my affair.
Anything interesting, or just generally keeping folks alive?
Mostly the latter. I worked at a hospital in Cairns. Good pay, low stress, since it either worked or it didn't. Plague broke out and my skills became particularly invaluable, but after that I didn't really want to hang around anymore. Too much death, too much horror. So I took up adventuring and mercenary work instead.
A totally loss- and horror-free profession, that.
Actually it mostly was. Our group got fairly straight-forward jobs for the most part, and we were pretty good. Then we took this one job. Seemed pretty straight-forward, just like any other job from the description and discussions. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were defending this castle from swarms of undead, hopelessly outnumbered. I was fighting alongside another guy, a priest of Kyrule, just sort of blasting anti-undeath magic all over, and at some point he comments that this would be a good death. And I'm like, fuck that, I wanna live! So I do the soul-siphon ritual thinking maybe it'll work before it kills me, and basically blast the entire region with energy.
It totally killed me.
Coraline snorts with laughter.
Ungodly Light's not all that big on the whole afterlife thing, either, but I guess what I did caught Kyrule's attention and he offered me the choice to serve him here and, well, yeah.
His view on undead is incredibly strange.
(slowly, for emphasis)
Sherramah gives Coraline a surprised look.
Completely batshit would be another word.
Weren't you a priest of some sort?
I'm also Damned. What does that tell you?
That you're completely batshit too?
Cora, you had pretty high standing before... that. How much did you really disagree on?
Some. A bit. And, well, that standing was in large part just because of what I was. Part of the whole point was that I disagreed, at least with the public stuff. I was the Apostate, the one with all the heresies in her pocket. I was the one supposed to correct those who wandered completely off point, because I was the one who actually knew why the point even was.
I knew the truth in all its horror. How Kyrule had suffered, how he had lied, how he had done everything to protect those in his care, only for it to not work. How he condemned one of his most faithful servants to protect her, so nobody would go after her. That's not the sort of thing you tell everyone, but it is the sort of thing you need to tell... someone.
Otherwise, well... tell the one version of the truth for too long and sometimes it becomes the truth just because ain't nobody remembers otherwise. Even your own self.
That servant wasn't you, by any chance...
So what, you were a Keeper of Stories?
Not a. The. All the others, they only had fragments. I was the one with the whole thing, all the versions. The public narrative and the real. I could have probably destroyed the entire Church of Kyrule, had I wanted to, and you know what? If they knew, they would have tried to do the same to me.
Gods, that's... gods.
You've gotta tell me everything.
I don't think that's a good idea.
Look, if anything specific comes up, I'll tell you all about it. Deal?
Can't blame a girl for trying.
Oh, I can.
EXT. City of Death - Atrium
A large demigod strolls into the atrium and regards the random folks assembled and passing through. It's large and looks a bit ridiculous.
The folks generally ignore it.
Wonder what it wants.
Bigger penis, probably.
How do you tell?
Probably not literally. Possibly, though.
I dunno, what would you want if you were some sort of demigod thing?
Uh... a better wardrobe?
The demigod's voice booms out over them.
I bring a challenge for the Eternal. Win, and I will serve.
Most of the folks around continue to ignore it. A few look around at the other folks.
Coraline heads over to it, Sherramah following, and then stops in front of it, totally dwarfed.
Yo. I bet you can't take me. I'll bet you this sausage in my hair.
(peering down at her)
You win, you get this sausage. You lose, you have to listen to me eat it. Noisily. Squelchingly.
But if you don't think you can take me, I understand.
Coraline turns away dismissively.
The demigod blasts her with a death spell, which has no effect whatsoever.
Coraline stops, then turns back.
Oh, you do think you can take me?
Yeah, I'm staying out of this.
Coraline gives her a disappointed look.
The demigod roars and explosions start opening up on top of Coraline, but she ducks away from the first before it even appears, and dodges around the others, throwing fireballs.
This doesn't have much effect, so she throws more fireballs.
It pulls a scythe out of somewhere unspeakable, and leaps at her. Coraline runs away backward, now throwing bigger fireballs.
It flinches back from a couple of them, and then swings again, nearly getting her as she rolls away. She turns around and properly runs away this time.
Sherramah winds up next to another Defender, watching idly as Coraline runs in circles around the Atrium.
I think she really enjoys getting herself killed.
(stopping nearby and yelling)
I'm not going to get killed!
Could have fooled me! Oh wait, you did fool me!
Coraline gives Sherramah a confused look and nearly gets her head lopped off, but manages to jump away.
Coraline runs right at the demigod, and right past it, throwing fireballs over her shoulder.
So this is normal?
How many times has she...
That's not many.
She hasn't been here very long.
Coraline runs past again, this time building up a really big fireball in her hands.
Help, help, help!
The demigod pauses, looking down on Sherramah and the Defender.
Sherramah holds up her hands disarmingly.
Coraline turns and throws the giant fireball at the demigod, knocking it over. She scoots over to the demigod as it starts to get back up. It's a bit singed, but quite angry.
Coraline drops another, much smaller fireball on it, knocking it back down.
Coraline pulls the sausage out of her hair.
Sherramah and the Defender come over as well, and a few others also converge for a better look.
You owe me a sausage.
No I don't. This just proves a problem can be solved with fireballs, not all problems.
(to the demigod)
Next time, try a net. They work well on insects.
The demigod starts to get up again, exhaustedly, but this time Kyrule appears over it, holding a sword.
Coraline chomps noisily on the sausage.
Your champion has defeated me. I will.
Kyrule steps back, and the demigod gets up and kneels.
And I got what I wanted, too! Everyone wins.
Please. That could have been so much noisier.
And you, my champion, have served me well. It is witnessed.
She hastily finishes the sausage.
Kyrule and the demigod go elsewhere.
Champion, eh? He may forgive you yet.
He was just being polite.
It was accurate. You were his champion, answering the challenge.
But I did it for the sausage.
Of course you did.
Coraline and Sherramah exchange looks.
Fuck... I wish I could just go apologise, or stuff.
I don't know how.
You just... apologise. Say sorry.
Pretend you're someone else. Just do whatever someone else, who isn't you, would do.
What, shine my mirrormask into the sky and shout s-s-something apologetic?
Sherramah gives her a blank look.
(getting out her mask)
Er... you have a torch?
What, I didn't mean literally!
But you said 'do what someone else would do'!
You really have no idea?
Coraline shakes her head, slightly embarrassed.
What do you want to apologise for?
Er... I kind of attacked Kyrule.
You... that was you?
Coraline now looks really embarrassed.
The Defender takes a deep breath, trying to compose himself.
Then say it. Tell him you're sorry, and he will hear you.
It won't mean anything.
It will mean whatever you put into it.
Coraline looks at him in a kind of terrified frozenness.
Sherramah pokes her.
Coraline stares at Sherramah in a sort of abject terror, instead.
Great, now we've broken her.
The Defender gives Sherramah a confused look.
Sherramah sighs, takes Coraline's thumb, and places it in her eye.
Coraline startles and jumps back.
Agh, don't do that!
Then don't freeze up like that!
There's an actual reason why you can't apologise, isn't there?
You're not actually sorry, are you?
I'm sorry I hurt him.
Abstract monsters, powered by momentum and the winds of the aether, wandering the realms. They have no motors, no intelligence, only the stiff frames and the hard laws that make them go, leg tied to leg, sail tied to strut, joint, wall, passage, floor.
Do not block their path, for they have will handle you no different than any other obstacle - either they will go right through you, or they will take you with them, for you are as the ground itself.