Part 4: Define the open skies
Every prison takes its certain shape. Some cages are gilded, some barren, some empty and dead. Some exist in wilderness, in solitude under the open sky. Some are clear, others not so much. A lifetime spent without purpose. A purgatory awaiting death. A sentence suspended. Painful care taken at every turn.
And yet the bird still sings. It pushes at its cage. It dismantles, slowly, the very nature of its prison.
And then you see the caged bird fly.
- In the world of double realities, one narrative is public, and one is real.
- Eapherod has been here all along.
- None of this happened the first time.
- Different things happened the first time.
- Events may repeat themselves, precede their causes, and take different forms in different stories. They are the same events.
- Some languages transcend meaning. They cannot be translated, for they simply are. These are the languages of gods, and of darker things.
- The Dark Sister is neither living nor dead.
EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
In the dream, the insects are roaring. The world is a field of green, surrounding you in thick shrubbery, level to your hips, soft, bristling, wet. The roaring is the trees around, lush and tall, full of fronds and hanging vines. The roaring is the cliffs ahead, slick and glistening. The roaring is the waterfall, torrential, towering, falling down, down, down, up into the mists above, its edge highlighted only by the glow of the sky. And more above. Layer cake. Towering mountains, roaring beneath the giant grasping hands of frothy white, reaching out in fingers.
The trolls are in the trees. You're running, you have to, running to the end of the field, toward the fingers, the one side not bounded by trees. Here the mist is thickest, floating into your arms and face, trickling down your clothes, and the precipice comes up suddenly, looming, reaching up as you jump, in the one brief moment of weightlessness before the world remembers its rules.
And then you're falling. You're wet, deaf, and falling, cliffs rushing past, hills making strange spires, spearing the mist. Everything is bright, glowing, but the falling doesn't stop. It's clearest here. The wrist below is reaching. The palm is outstretched. Twisting. Gleaming. You reach out with your own hand, and it's a match, precise and exacting. Hand for hand. Palm for palm.
And then it hits you.
You're standing at the shore, the water lapping hungrily at your feet. You're so close now. You can feel it. You just have to keep going, and not fall. The small river stones shift and warble as you step tentatively along the shore, grinding them against each other. The ground is hollow, the water clear and green and blue. The lush foliage hangs back overhead, dripping, whispering, warning. Shapes loom in the shadows.
You're tired of running. You turn back to the trees, dark and green, full of shivering shadows.
The trees shiver, rustling.
They aren't trees.
You're running, fleeing the shivers, bounding from rocks to logs, slipping, scraping, flitting past. The waterfall looms, a single finger, roaring, shifting, fading into a memory of a memory, greyer than green. Its torrent slows, and the other fingers too fall silent. There is only the one. The one. The
A single frond of fern trails across your arm, depositing beads of wetness in a red smear, painting like a maiden's hair. You stretch it out and the pattern shifts, changing, writing. Hello World.
The river narrows. The cliffs are covered in ferns, in clumps and tangles.
You step onto the water, and it ripples outward with each footfall, building crossing patterns behind and before. Step, step, step. The narrow cliffs are a corridor, dark, echoing. Silent, as the sky closes overhead. Straight, as the ripples cease. Dark, as the chatter rises to a scream.
A door, vast and grand, looms out of the gloom ahead, as the dream begins to fade.
You need to get to it, you need...
And then it's gone.
The morning is wet and overcast. This only makes it worse as Coraline awakens in the usual misery, her arms screaming in pain, her back and legs aching.
Vardaman is squatted over her, holding her head up with his hand, peering at her closely.
How do you bear it? This must be agony for you, on top of the horror you already face...
That's a stupid question. Either I bear it or what, hmm? What exactly else am I supposed to do, go mad?
I've done this once before, restraining a necromancer who we needed to keep alive so that his minions would not awaken. He would not stop struggling. He cried out and screamed, calling it torture. When we finally managed to conduct the proper rituals and put him to death, he took it as a relief.
Vardaman hauls her to her feet, patting her down.
Would you prefer a quick death?
Coraline lowers her arms slowly, healing them as she does, but the pain still stabs through it.
His crimes were innumerable and clear. But you... this should not have been your fate.
Well, life sucks. Haven't you noticed?
Vardaman gives Coraline some vodka, holding it to her mouth, and she awkwardly drinks before he withdraws and closes it, putting it away.
I got it. I put it in your shoe. I have no idea how you'll get it out.
Er, thanks. I guess.
I don't think it did anything.
Maybe next time you'll think twice before putting on five pairs of socks.
Coraline gives Agata an annoyed look as Vardaman unties her from the tree.
You could just let me go.
That is not an option.
Vardaman doesn't answer, instead guiding her over to the horse of the moment and hoisting her up, mounting after. Through her socks, she feels something in her boot, like a small rock.
They continue on.
INT. Grey Lobby
The Lobby is empty, now.
Coraline glances around, and then looks down at her feet. She's not even wearing socks. Under her blue dress, her feet are bare.
She wanders, drifting between the circling bits of furniture, trailing her fingers down the backs of sofas.
She tries some of the doors, but they won't open.
She stacks a chair on top of a table, just for the hell of it.
She knocks on the walls. Her hand clunks dully. She kicks at some of the sofas.
She finds herself in the centre, and glances around, but she is still alone.
She closes her eyes. She feels the fire, waiting, and brings it out, focusing it in her hands, balling it up in front of her, until it's almost too much for her to bear. She throws it out in every direction with a scream, and the flames explode around her, billowing out, before fading into nothing.
She pauses, and then lashes out with an arm, slicing the air with a finger, directing a lash of fire beyond it. She does another, and another, and another, dancing about, painting the air with slashes of fire that trail behind her and die. She slashes through one of the sofas, and it leaves a jagged glowing cut behind.
Silence and stillness greet her as she finally stops.
A tendril of smoke rises from the sofa.
The Lobby blurs slightly, and then it's as it was - no cut in the sofa, no scorch marks from her flames, no burns.
Coraline quickly steps out.
INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
A room is full of water. The wall door is hanging open, but a forcefield is over the doorway, holding the water in.
Kit and Nolan are standing nearby.
Kit casts a bunch of spells on Nolan.
(doing hand-wavy bits)
biinät namön, yäig apurar koiŋgoita dalamo, ugiamo ibao. goro rägia.
Okay. I guess.
Nolan pushes through the forcefield, swimming into the water while sort of jumping off the ground in the air outside. Kit shoves him the rest of the way in.
Several minutes pass, and then Nolan falls back out and lands in a heap at Kit's feet.
(helping Nolan back up)
Nolan coughs a bit.
Nolan doesn't answer, and ambles off in a direction instead.
(calling after Nolan)
You know you'd make a really good wizard, because you're just that helpful!
INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
They try again.
namön yoliaig, yäig apurar koiŋgoita dalamo, goro rägia, maradën guäïn kurum.
Spell effects happen, and a large bubble appears around Nolan. Kit tries to shove him through the forcefield into the water room.
The bubble resists, not wanting one bit to go into the water.
Kit pushes harder, makes the slightest progress, and then the bubble bounces back, knocking him and Nolan over.
INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
Everyone is there this time, outside the water room, by the open door with the forcefield. Jora has a large pole. Erry stands nearby, watching.
(finishing off and casting everything on Nolan)
ëlimo kumukumu. uoyak... biinät?
The last spell is designed for pressure problems in general, but he has no idea what it actually does.
Then Nolan goes up to the forcefield, Jora shoves the pole in the frame past Nolan, and they force Nolan inside by using the pole as a lever against the wall.
Nolan disappears into the darkness of the water on the other side, drifting vaguely upward.
For a long while, nothing happens.
Nothing continues to happen.
Should he be back, or...?
He's dead. He's finally dead. You killed him.
Kit glares at Erry.
Shall I go after him?
If it didn't work, he's already dead. Let's wait for the bubble spell to wear off first. I think he might just be stuck.
A few minutes later, Nolan flops back out through the forcefield, landing in a wet heap.
Jora helps him up, checking his face to see if he's all right.
Nolan ignores her.
So this might just work.
Erry stares at him.
INT. Grey Lobby
Coraline practises fire. She tries it without arms, keeping them firmly crossed, but nothing happens. So then she tries with one hand, gesturing over her elbow, and that works. She makes the gestures smaller and smaller, but makes the slashes of fire exactly the same, controlled, precise.
Then she doesn't need the hand. The fire comes at a thought. She looks, and it happens. She doesn't look, and it still happens, exactly in place.
The flames dance before her and she follows them with her mind, and snuffs them.
Then the boy in green is there too, throwing fire back, practising his own control in his incanted spells, grinning.
They weave their fire about in delight, painting the room with light. Coraline stands still and closes her eyes, tracing jagged shapes around her, and the boy in green chases after them, adding his own. Coraline dances around him, weaving the fire into it, and he dances with her, pairing off like a pair dance of some sort.
After a particularly exuberant finish, they collapse together, exhausted, laughing.
BOY IN GREEN
How do you do that? Cast without casting?
The fire is part of me. I just...
(she pauses to think about it)
I know what it feels like normally, and then I just use that feeling directly.
BOY IN GREEN
Can you do that with other spells?
The boy vanishes.
Coraline stares after him for a moment, and then slowly smiles.
All right, Mad Anna. We might just be in business.
EXT. Soravian countryside - afternoon
Coraline tries to scratch her arse on the saddle even as Vardaman continues to restrain her.
It doesn't work.
In her mind, she can feel the fire waiting, alien and yet familiar. She traces the feel of its call, not quite pushing it enough to cast it into the world itself, but knowing, now, that she can.
EXT. Soravian countryside - day
The days drag.
It doesn't end. The hills don't end. The pain doesn't end. The riding and stopping, the indignity and the searches, the vodka, the bound and wrapped hands, the arms held up over her head, the trees, the itching that she cannot scratch, the forests with their cold wind and colder sunlight... it doesn't end. They catch glimpses of the lower hills and plains to the south, and of the true mountains to the north. Thimble reappears, riding the packhorse with Agata, and then the three-legged white cat, too.
Vardaman maintains his vigil, showing no emotion, allowing no openings.
Amidst it all, Coraline restrains herself, and waits. She holds the fire. She senses Vardaman, and how easily she could kill him, with just a thought.
When the pain becomes too much, she focuses on her words, speaking softly, repeating the same phrase over and again. When there is nothing else to do, she returns to the Grey Lobby, and with the boy in green, practices simple spells - casting lights, moving things about, creating lightning and frost, making silly things happen with sound and colour.
EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
- Dancing, swaying, flowing, skittering about. Loops and returns, glowing assays. The sky a theatre, the ground a mirror, broken only by the shatter of the unmade sea. There is silence here, and stillness, under the dance unending.
You are standing on ice, a small island floating among so many others. There is no way off, no escape, but here in the cold, on the water, there is at least a respite. The aurora above dances its dance in hues of red and gold and green, painting stories only stars can hear, and you close your eyes, listening to the silence, feeling the rhythm of the dance in your bones. So familiar. You know, you just-
Something clonks, and the entire iceberg jolts, knocking you to your knees.
"No," you whisper, digging your fingers into the rough snow. "Not here." You struggle to get up, but the berg is shifting now, pulled down on one side, then another, rocking with every bound, every reach. They are climbing all around, closing, closing.
There is a little bird at your feet, shivering, and you pick it up carefully, cupping it in your hands. "Hush, little love," you say. "It won't be long now. In the stories..."
The bird squeaks and shrinks into your hands as you sink back to the still rocking icy ground.
"In the stories, we only die once," you whisper, and hug the bird close, closing your eyes once more.
It's warmer. You're sitting on a ground, still hard, but no longer icy, no longer frozen, and still. It is dark now. No auroras dance. No stars paint the sky in a brilliant swath. You open your hands, and the bird peers out as well, a strange warmth, oddly at home. You can feel it glowing. A little light. Known quantity.
You're in an underground room, full of crates and giant bananas. The light is on, but you are blind, you cannot see, cannot see anything even as you know it is there. In a panic, you scramble to get up once more, nearly running into a banana on the way, and jump over several crates, and the bird squeaks in surprise. You run. You flee. Bananas keep getting in the way. Then it's other fruit too: lemons, persimmons, cloudberries, gerbils, even a pineapple, all giant, towering things ready to crush and kill. The lobsters aren't helping either. Why are you wearing lobsters on your feet?!
You stop and look down, and the lobsters stare up at you balefully.
"Get off my feet," you tell them.
The lobsters continue to stare up at you balefully.
"Please," you add.
The lobsters sigh and scuttle away, rather lethargically.
"You're not helping either," you then tell a nearby lime, as tall as you are.
"Aww," the lime says, and hangs what might pass for its head.
"Sorry," you say, skirting around it. You really do feel sorry. "I know you're doing the best you can."
You hurry on, out into the corridor. It's old, dusty, dark. Here the walls are lit by fixtures set into the ceilings, alien but familiar, practical, sensible. The dusty linoleum is scratched and gouged underfoot, streaked with rubber stains, dented by constant use. You still can't see, but it doesn't matter. You know what's what. You can feel it all, all around, all the same.
You skip past the first three doors entirely. They are the wrong ones. The fourth you almost open. It has a small window built in, barred over. The latch is heavy, designed only to keep whatever is in in, and you look inside. The walls are padded, but there is little else there, only a whisper of a whisper, repeating words you know too well. A shadow of a shadow, a memory of a scream. A face, suddenly there where there had previously been nothing, right at the window, bloodied, maddened, staring back at you in utter terror.
You jump back in surprise. It's your face.
"Like air. Like water," you hear the other you whisper hoarsely. She shrinks down, and then rises again suddenly. "Go!" she says. "Find the end. Built up the beginning. Can't stop until you've writ your name."
"What?" you say.
"Go!" the other you shrieks, waving you along, before sinking back into the depths of the room, mumbling.
You go. But now the space is wider, a vast hall, broken up by columns, thick, ordered, raw, repeating on into the depths like a maze, growing out of the dark. You follow their line to the far end, to the vast double door set into it, intricately detailed, towering, each one metres across, and many more tall. You can't make out the patterns. Every time you look, they change, ornate and detailed, an exquisite relief that doesn't seem to actually be anything at all, just a story, ever changing.
There is no handle. No hinges. Just the door reaching up into the gloom above. You stop uncertainly, but the patterns don't, still shifting, dreaming. It is just the shape. Huge, looming.
What are you supposed to do with it?
Coraline is mumbling her mantra, half asleep, trying to get back to the dream, even as Vardaman lifts her up against the tree of the moment. She stops, realising the night is finally over, and whimpers.
What were you saying?
Coraline stares at him unhappily, and then cries out in pain as he pushes her arms back down.
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
(he places a hand on Coraline's forehead, casting)
wound fasten full.
Some of the pain fades. The voices worsen. Other things worsen.
I'm sorry. Your wounds are beyond my ability to heal.
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
Vardaman gets her the vodka, and the cycle continues as usual. She drinks the vodka awkwardly, eats the tortillas awkwardly as Vardaman feeds her each bite. She rides with him, held in place, bound tightly, not telling him, not killing him.
She rests at the bases of trees, held up by her arms secured above her head, and does nothing.
In the world, she whispers, quietly, her mantra, not even noticing the words.
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
In the Lobby, she buys time, and distraction, but little solace.
The voices whisper as the sun gets lower. Ghostlights go silent and flee before them.
EXT. Soravian village - afternoon
Vardaman and Coraline ride into a small village nestled in the foothills. Coraline hangs limply, mumbling.
Wake up. We're here.
Coraline sits up uncertainly, looking around.
Thick stone houses line the road. Rocky walls hint at extensive cultivation, though most of the fields contain only goats. Villagers going about their day-to-day stop and peer at them curiously as they pass. A group of housemites gathers and dances in front of the horses, and then scatters when Vardaman doesn't stop.
A child starts to go to them, but then its mother runs after, puts a restraining hand on its shoulder, and guides it back inside.
An IMPORTANT-LOOKING VILLAGER approaches.
Vardaman dismounts, taking the leads of all three horses in his hands, leaving Coraline to slide back into the saddle proper, peering out from behind a curtain of filthy hair.
Can you use this?
Yeah. Get my bag, will you?
Already on it. Arms?
I think the fire will work. Should be fine if I can just get the reins out of his hands. He's been using his legs to direct the horse some anyway, so I should be able to do the same. I dunno about galloping, though.
Not enough control?
Or balance. Or strength. I'll likely just fall out of the saddle, or bounce around too much, especially since I also don't have stirrups.
State your business.
Just passing through.
I could use supplies, if you have anyone selling.
The important-looking villager looks up at Coraline.
What'd you do?
Tried to take over the world. The ferrets, though. The ferrets rebelled.
Alright. Marswattas'll get you set up with whatever you need.
(he gestures down the road)
Gods be with you.
The important-looking villager goes and sends some kids to let the Marswattas know. The kids run off up the road.
Vardaman nods at him and continues after them, staying beside the horse with Coraline on, holding the leads of the others behind.
What are we waiting for?
Distraction. I can cut the reins, but if he can just grab the tack, we're screwed. If he shifts his hold, I'll see if I can get us moving, though. You'll need to get on the saddlecloth, and hold on.
Mad Anna would love this. So exciting. Such suspense.
Vardaman stops outside the indicated house, marked by some kids loitering nearby, and puts a hand on Coraline's leg.
Don't try anything.
What am I going to try, armless show jumping? I haven't even walked the course.
Vardaman gives her a flat look.
You've stopped your mantra.
Agata peers at him carefully from the packhorse. Thimble and the white cat are just gone again.
Two more kids and a guy, presumably a MARSWATTA, come out of the house.
Hoi. Whatcha need?
Around them, villagers gather, watching, some of them chatting quietly. A few giggle to each other behind conspiratorial hands.
Coraline watches Vardaman vaguely, noting his hands.
Travellable foodstuffs, water. Hay.
Vardaman hands him a magic bag, maintaining a firm hold on the reigns and saddle with his other hand.
If you've got any warm clothes she can use, hats, scarves, that would also be good.
I'll see what my wife can dig up.
The Marswatta heads back in.
Coraline tries to flick her hair out of her face. It doesn't work.
Well, this is fun. Everyone's staring at us. I haven't even showered.
Vardaman doesn't respond, standing waiting.
A few minutes later, the Marswatta comes back out, holding Vardaman's bag and some other items, followed by what might be a MRS. MARSWATTA, who is carrying a keg.
Got your stuff. Comes out to 20 crowns, 8 half.
20, really? What I asked for should barely top 8 full.
We're out here. Things cost money. 20.
If you're out here, then up a little. 10's more than reasonable.
I suppose I could take it down to 18 for a Deathdealer.
You're ridiculous. And is that keg for me, or what?
Fine. 15. But that's the best you're getting. Even in port you won't get better, and things cost here.
Vardaman pulls some coins out of his pocket and sorts through them with his thumb, handing them off, putting a couple of the wrong kind back. He repeats this a few times.
Here's ten and 8 half.
The Marswatta gives him an irritated look.
Vardaman gives him another two coins.
The Marswatta gives him a less irritated look.
Vardaman gives him another coin.
Fine. Pleasure doing business with you.
Mrs. Marswatta looks up Coraline consideringly.
Coraline gives her a pleading look.
Mrs. Marswatta glances irritably off to the side, then drops the keg on her husband's foot, causing him to fall over onto Vardaman, knocking the Deathdealer aside. Vardaman in turn yanks at the horses, not letting go.
The horses make unhappy noises and pull back.
(trying to pull her husband back up and nearly falling on him as well)
Sorry, sorry! Are you okay?
Gods damn, woman!
Coraline slices fire at the reins, jerking away with her head, and they fall limply out of Vardaman's hands, severed. The horse prances back, released from Vardaman's grip, and Coraline quickly turns away in the saddle, pressing with her legs, turning it away as well.
Agata jumps onto its back, scrabbling at the saddlecloth, and climbs up onto Coraline's shoulders.
Coraline winces, but directs the horse more clearly this time, the commands coming to her like second nature. The horse steps lightly forward, going into a trot as Vardaman pushes away the Marswattas and jumps after Coraline.
Coraline thrusts an elbow at Vardaman, trying to direct the cast, even as she motions with her legs for the horse to canter.
Vardaman stumbles back.
The horse flattens out into the much less bouncy rhythm.
Good horse. Good.
You've done this before.
Not this! And keep your balance! It's hard enough keeping myself balanced; the moment one of us tips all three'll fall over!
Vardaman runs after, though he's well behind at this point.
The horse ignores him, still following Coraline's commands, and gains speed down the road. She focuses the fire, giving it shape and directing it into her bindings, down her arms, wincing as it burns against her skin.
fell go down! black ashes night! bury! hold!
Vardaman throws some spells after Coraline, and one hits her in the back, making her decidedly woozy. She resists the feeling, concentrating on freeing herself, and riding, as the horse rounds a bend.
A small gaggle of villagers come out into the road around a building ahead. The horse charges straight at them.
The villagers look up in surprise, and then duck as the horse jumps over. Coraline leans forward, pulling at her remaining bindings, and nearly falls off as the horse lands and Agata claws at her face before getting her seat properly again.
Coraline shoves some more fire at her arms, not even caring as it burns her even more, and finally yanks her hands free. She grabs the reins.
The horse proceeds to jump over some more, smaller, obstacles as well, but Coraline sticks the landing much better on these, glancing back momentarily as they pass the last couple of houses.
For the moment, there's no sign of further pursuit as she diverts into the woods.
Vardaman returns to the Marswattas shortly.
Mrs. Marswatta is patting down the other Marswatta's clothes, dusting him off. He grumbles at her.
Did you do that on purpose?
What? Don't be ridiculous.
(swatting her away)
Yes, yes, that's your job, you know.
(picking up his stuff)
Because if so, you should know that woman is a Carrier of the Death of Souls.
Well, so am I. Fortunately only to this poor sod most of the time.
What? Are you eating my soul now, too?
Vardaman ignores them and sets up the other two horses, tying the packhorse to the spare, and tightening the saddle on that. He mounts quickly, and urges the horses on.
Hmm? Oh, where are you going so fast?
To recapture the Carrier!
What's she carrying, do you suppose?
(he sighs and heads back toward the house)
I'm gonna go make dinner.
It's already on, you twit!
EXT. Soravian wilderness - night
The moons are full, the stars twinkling. Few clouds are out, over the trees. Coraline pushes the horse onward, healing it in lieu of resting, and herself, too, and so far, it seems to work. The voices are getting louder around her, echoing, pressing. Agata is no longer on her head, the bag now tucked into her belt.
Okay, I think I found something you can use.
It's a zombie. Looks a bit like you. Not very smart, though. I think Argument of Hags was chewing on it.
What? How'd a zombie get in there?
Agata pokes her head out of the bag.
We should probably keep going.
Are you sure your pace is faster than Vardaman's?
It would have to be, unless he's... also using magic. And he's got two horses, so that could make it even easier... bloody damn. Okay.
Coraline guides the horse to stop in a dark stand of trees. Frost moulds on their branches form little flowers, covering the few remaining leaves. She slips out of the saddle quickly and starts loosening the tack.
Agata interrupts Coraline by crawling out of the bag like a bird emerging from a dead beetle.
The horse nuzzles Coraline's ear.
Perkele. I'd tend to you proper, but I'm now sure there's time.
Agata peers up at her.
Coraline pulls her bag out of her belt, nudges the inner bag aside, and pulls out the edges of the middle bag, eyes it worriedly for a moment, and then tips herself inside.
It's akin to a decent-sized room, several metres across and over two metres tall. Junk is everywhere. Bedding and barrels are scattered about at random. Several bags are affixed to the top near the opening, and several bats are hanging off of those. Some lumps that look suspiciously like gogs are also hanging amidst the bags. Ash demons are everywhere, drifting, floating, hanging to the sides of things. A pile of camping stuff, dirty clothes, and empty bottles has accumulated on top of several hap-hazard stacks of books, and Coraline winds up draped rather indecently over that, bats fluttering away in surprise.
It is utterly, utterly dark, and surprisingly warm.
Coraline flops off the pile, onto another pile, and gets up awkwardly. A cat jumps away.
Something gibbers in the gloom. There's no light source, but for some reason she can almost see, sort of.
Coraline closes her eyes and tries to look properly. Shapes begin to form in her mind, a dialogue of presence all around her. A few points glow - cats, gogs, a few bats hanging from the ceiling, and something almost human approaching her hesitantly. One of the cats rubs against her legs and mews up at her. Other, vaguer shapes linger as well.
She opens her eyes reflexively, but now that she's seeing without, her vision remains the same.
The something almost human stops in front of her. Its skin is shrivelled, its face shrunken, eyes gone, wearing tattered rags, but it glows with an odd inverse light, muted, but vibrant.
Hello. Are you the zombie?
The zombie stands there, staring vacantly with soupy eyes. It seems to be a dried-out drowner, and a bit chewed on.
Coraline stares at it dubiously.
Another zombie topples off a pile, tries to get up, trips over something else, and falls on its face on the floor in front of Coraline.
The first zombie looks down at it blankly.
Coraline also stares down at it blankly, and then glances back at the upright zombie uncertainly.
Er, which one was I supposed to be looking at?
Depends what your plan is.
I have a plan?
You should always have a plan. Several.
Great. Now if only I knew what they were.
Er, can you please get up?
The zombie on the floor tries to get up and fumbles a bit, so the other zombie helps it up, and then Coraline gives it a hand as well, getting it properly on its feet.
The floor zombie is smaller than the other, and slimmer, thinner than Coraline. It has no eyes, only empty sockets.
Right. Okay. I need you to do something for me.
The zombies stand by, dutifully waiting.
Agh, let's see...
Coraline tosses around some magelights, sticking them to random piles of things, and grabs some food. She then finds some cleanish clothes and starts shedding her own, still gnawing on the food.
(Dead voice; to the smaller floor zombie)
Can you take your rags off for me?
The floor zombie tries, but doesn't get very far. The other zombie paws at it a bit, rather ineffectually.
Coraline finishes pulling on some new socks and underwear, and then goes to help the floor zombie get its off, and starts putting all the clothes she had been wearing it, including what turns out to be four pairs of socks, sitting it down for some bits, turning it around for others. The floor zombie is perfectly cooperative, the other zomebie sort of helpful.
Coraline stops at the boots, petting Tress absentmindedly.
Perkele, I liked these boots.
The floor zombie, sitting on a barrel, watches her patiently with empty sockets. The other zombie stares vacantly off into space in the general direction of some miscellaneous junk.
Coraline shakes out the boots, and a fragment of something that looks a bit like a small black pebble falls out.
Coraline reaches to pick it up, and the whole world turns inside out the moment she touches it. The voices silence. Stars loom, all too close, brilliant, searing, forming nameless patterns in her mind. The blackness drifts throughout it all, but no longer cloying, no longer hungering, simply there, a part of her, old and familiar. Another voice drifts out, lingeringly, huge, an echo of a memory:
You will be my last. You will be the best.
Coraline recoils in surprise, dropping the fragment, and everything goes back to normal, the voices rushing in, the stars and vastness fading. Only the voice of the Dark Sister continues to reverberate in her head, too huge to quite get rid of.
Coraline glares at the fragment in annoyance.
The floor zombie continues to sit patiently.
Coraline reaches down and picks the fragment up more carefully this time, bracing herself, and this time the effect is lessened. The stars and... things all still loom, the darkness still drifts throughout it all, the voices still go silent, but now she simply pushes the stars away, ignoring them, and looks past the darkness, and it seems to work. She can focus, almost. The voice of the Dark Sister still lingers, but more quietly now, subdued. It seems to be saying her name.
Except it isn't her name. Is it?
Coraline ignores that too and stuffs the fragment into her bra.
Is that an improvement?
No idea, but I'll take it.
Coraline finishes dressing the floor zombie, putting on the boots and adding her coat and other bits as well, and then pulls on some clean clothes herself. She finds some new, not quite as nice boots, another coat that is nearly worn through on one elbow, some mittens, and a decent hat, brushes out and braids her hair quickly, and then puts on her sword and grabs her staff, putting the strap over her shoulder
All right, come on.
(to the other zombie)
You, guard my stuff.
Coraline gestures for the floor zombie to come over, and then climbs up some junk and hoists it out of the bag. She tries to climb up after, but can't quite make it.
The other zombie comes over and hoists her up.
The gogs just watch.
EXT. Soravian wilderness - night
The horse is still there, asleep, with Agata sitting on it.
Coraline lies on the ground for a moment, just relishing the feeling of being able to actually lie down. She gets up regretfully, reassembling her bag, and next to her, the now dressed floor zombie gets up too.
Standing next to each other, they look very similar. Only the floor zombie's face really stands out as not Coraline.
(indicating the floor zombie)
Seems pretty smart to me.
It does seem smarter with you next to it...
Coraline goes to the horse and nudges its neck, rubbing it a bit.
Hey, come on, we need to go.
The horse startles awake with a snort, and gets up slowly at Coraline's urging.
Keep the horse or spook it?
Which do you prefer?
I so wanna keep it. But then if the Deathdealer tracks it down, which he probably will, I'll be there too... damn loose ends.
Agata shrugs a paw.
Coraline sighs and turns back to the floor zombie.
Mother... did good...
Yes, you did good. Very good. Now please, hold still. This will be quick.
The floor zombie stands dutifully before her.
Oh, I really hope you can't feel pain.
Coraline plants her staff with one hand and places the other on the floor zombie's chest, and then brings out the fire, drawing it out, building it up, pulling even more from the staff, and pushes it into the floor zombie. At first, the floor zombie just begins to glow slightly, and then it opens its mouth.
Flames burst out of its mouth, licking up its face, and then the entire form of the zombie catches fire, a small fireball billowing upward, and the floor zombie collapses, burning.
The horse flees.
Coraline jumps back in surprise.
Okay, now we get out of here.
And somehow not leave any tracks...
It's good ground for that. Just watch your step, don't scrape against things. And pray he buys it.
They hurry away into the dark woods, even as the floor zombie continues to burn down and smoulder behind them.
INT. Blocky structure - adjournment floor
The four kids gather by the room with the puddle outside.
Nolan stares pointedly at the puddle, and then stands in it.
Erry glares at him with a special kind of loathing.
If this works, we will get very wet. Make sure everything is secured and waterproofed as needed.
I wonder if ration blocks need to be waterproofed. I wonder how long they last. I wonder if I really want to find out.
Kit casts spells, this time on all of them, and two gogs that just sort of randomly show up next to them.
namön yoliaig, namön yoliaig käïkä, yäig apurar koiŋgoita dalamo makitaka adëaka käïkä, maradën guäïn kurum käïkä.
He starts to make bubbles, but then Nolan stops him.
Put us all in one. She'll kill me.
Kind of think you brought that on yourself.
Kit does so regardless, pulling his sister over. The gogs peer up at him patiently.
uoyak biinät adëaka.
(gesturing over everyone)
A very large bubble forms around the lot of them, centred on Nolan.
Nolan turns back toward the door, and then stands in the circle of glyphs in front of it, causing the bubble to roll slightly.
Nothing continues to happen.
Nothing continues to continue to happen.
Are we sure it... will open?
Nolan doesn't answer, and just continues to stand there.
Erry yawns loudly.
The door wall explodes, spurting water everywhere around the edges, and then cracking down the middle, too, as the torrent crashes through.
Nolan drops to the floor of the bubble as the water pours onto it, and Jora does the same. The bubble bounces back, tossed by the force of the water, and Kit and Erry both fall over.
It bounces around some more in the utter chaos of the flooding corridor, and inside it, the kids and gogs bounce around as well.
While all of this is going on, Erry does not try to kill Nolan, but she does bite him rather hard.
Then the entire corridor is flooded, the bubble pushed back against a corner, stuck to the ceiling. Pockets of air around them are pressed and compressed.
The currents die down. The bubble drifts to a slightly higher point of ceiling.
Absolutely nothing proceeds to happen.
Okay, it is entirely possible that I did not entirely think this through.
Well, uh... we should be able to breathe the water, and I don't think it will crush us, but...
Kit eyes Nolan.
Nolan pulls his rune stick out of his pocket and pops the bubble. It trembles and divides, and a moment later, they all fall out as the air escapes and spreads across the ceiling as much more normal bubbles.
There's a bit of flailing before they realise they all really are still fine.
Erry swims around a bit, nowhere in particular, circling the others.
(her voice very distorted)
So what's the plan?
(also somewhat distorted)
Find leak, knock out wall, use bubble to surface.
Jora heads for the dark hole where the sealed door used to be. Nolan and Kit follow. None of them move particularly quickly.
The gogs wind up attaching themselves to Nolan's back. He ignores them.
They come out into what, for all intents and purposes, is a void. Their lights illuminate only a short distance into the water, highlighting each other, the nearest wall and floor, and as they progress, not even that. It is like floating in nothing.
Erry starts singing, an odd tune about a hangover that lasts for several days, but mangled to be about badgers instead. The water mangles it even more, to the point where it's nearly unintelligible.
Erry blurbles at Nolan, waving her moose. Bits of fur fall out of it, drifting away in the water.
Nolan turns and continues on, swimming like an eel towards what might be the centre of the chamber.
The others follow.
An enormous eye looms up out of the gloom.
The eye is attached to an even more enormous trunk, as well as, apparently, a set of really massive tentacles further off to the side. The entire thing seems to comprise some sort of MASSIVE SQUID.
The massive squid pushes itself upwards, facing the kids with a set of tentacles lined with hundreds of sharp teeth, and some other things even more disturbing than teeth.
Nolan swims upwards, getting back up to squid eye level. He gestures toward himself, then to the squid, then around, then makes a motion that seems to mean 'out'.
The squid stares at him with enormous eyes.
(to the others)
Nolan swims up and around the squid.
The others follow cautiously.
The squid makes no motions to stop them.
They swim on into the dark, empty, noisy void.
They continue swimming, making no apparent progress whatsoever.
They continue continuing swimming.
A wall looms up very suddenly, blooming out of nothing in the stifled light of the magelights.
Nolan stops in front of it and stares at it, and starts slowly sinking.
The others regard it blankly as well, and for lack of any reason not to, also stop swimming. Unlike Nolan, they don't really sink.
A mass of tentacles and other squid parts drifts out of the darkness behind them. It also regards the wall, possibly blankly.
Kit gives the squid a worried look. Erry stares at it.
Jora watches Nolan. And the wall.
Nolan ignores the squid utterly, and continues sinking.
(swimming after Nolan)
(pointing at the wall)
Kit stares dubiously at the wall.
So to be clear. We're under an ocean, which has enough pressure and stuff to crush us. Currently the only thing protecting us against it is this wall and some magic that may or may not actually work. And we need to go through both wall and ocean in order to get out at all, and the most promising way we have to do that is a bubble?
And this is better than sticking around home how?
I've catalogued those sheep.
You have no family left. You would be alone in chaos, building nothing out of nothing, with no more direction nor purpose than survival. But you are brilliant, all of you, in your own ways. Here, you might flourish. And find sheep.
Kit stares at Nolan.
Erry bites Nolan's arm again, and then just sort of hangs off by teeth, blood drifting into the water around. Nolan ignores her.
Jora turns Kit around and gestures toward the squid.
It's trapped too. Let's get us all out.
Oh, well that changes everything.
Nolan sinks a bit more, and then points to a hairline crack in the wall.
Kit swims over and stares at it.
Chain the bubble, hold its volume. There will be changes.
Kit grabs his sister, who is still attached to Nolan.
(motioning toward the crack in the wall with his free hand, and trying to get the words out as carefully as possible)
ikusiabud maliralu uaro! namön kolön adëaka ëlimo kumukumu käïkä.
Kit shoves the spells, and his sister, at the wall. A bubble forms around Erry, expanding and enveloping the lot of them, stripping them of the water, and the wall shudders a bit, but doesn't break. Kit throws out his arms, holding the bubble out against the pressure of the water.
The bubble begins to rise.
Nolan sits down.
Kit lets go and the bubble shrinks considerably.
(hurriedly chucking some more spells through the bubble)
maliralu uaro! bukakuram uma!
Nolan's eye twitches.
(sinking down to the floor of the bubble as well, clutching her head)
OW ow ow ow ow.
The wall ripples and groans, and then starts to crack, glowing at the edges, and then explodes right at them, shoving chunks right at them, into the room.
Kit throws out his arms again, pushing the bubble back out, holding it as bubble and squid are both pushed considerably back. Then a chunk hits the bubble, causing it to spin crazily as well.
The massive squid grabs and tosses a few other chunks aside as they fly at it, and then swims over to the bubble and steadies it with a tentacle, before grabbing it in a few more and using the rest to swim out of the room into the open ocean beyond.
Kit pulls himself out a crazy position on top of Nolan, continuing to hold the edge of the bubble out, hands out to his sides, palms out, concentrating, calculating.
The squid lets go once they're out, and swims away.
The bubble begins slowly to rise.
Erry stands up uncertainly, staring upwards, blood trickling out of her nose, and Jora steadies her.
Around them is only black.
As the bird flies
EXT. Soravian wilderness - morning
Coraline makes good progress on foot, headed mostly south. Cats spill out of the bag, walking alongside her, stalking ahead, riding her shoulders. The dawn comes with clouds aflame, and the day rises bright around them. She's tired, but feels no particular need to sleep.
Sometimes, when she looks, the world seems thinner, as though the darkness behind it is sort of poking through. Sometimes it sparkles.
All in all, it is brilliant.
The forests break up around them, giving way to open hills with stands of trees nestled tall amongst them. It's a much slower pace than before, but it's also a good one, giving time to properly look at the countryside, the views, the changes as autumn fades to winter.
Morning gives way to noon, and then afternoon. Coraline hikes with staff in one hand, whiskey in the other. Agata rides her shoulders. The three-legged white cat hangs half-out of her bag. Thimble and Onpahanvaanlampi stalk ahead of her.
The terrain is rockier, the hills taller. Coraline sticks to the gullies and canyons between them, even as they level out ahead. The trees reach out and cover her, obscuring the open hillsides around.
But there's no pursuit. No sudden altercations come.
Coraline climbs past a bunch of rocks, poking through dried weeds.
A FAIRY skitters across a rock and hisses at her.
Agata yawns on Coraline's head.
No... no, yours. You bring your own. You walk as bones, almost burnt.
The fairy scuttles into a crevice behind the rock.
Coraline peers after it disappointedly, but continues ever onwards.
EXT. Soravian wilderness - evening
The sun sets sedately, with no fanfare, no fire, only a simple gradient of yellows and greens and blues and purples spreading across the sky like a growth of fungus. She pauses as the first stars peek through, tracing their patterns against the sky. She knows them well.
The Blob. Mr. Scruffy. Thing That Looks Almost Like The Pleiades But Isn't.
You got some weird names, Names.
What do you call them?
The Hand of Augh, Silent Kitten. The Old Mothers, Haresh, Sonmi, Peledeska, Hareiko, Lepaedi, Sehtusemuoia, and Brenna.
Stars are something else entirely.
I never said the local names weren't weird too.
Ghostlights rise out of the stones, warbling faintly, dancing amongst each other. Coraline follows a couple, trying to catch one, but when she does, it simply moves right through her hand.
Argument of Hags pounces on another and eats it.
EXT. Soravian wilderness - early morning
Coraline finally stops to rest in the lee of a set of particularly large, angled rocks, covered in lichens, as the sky again begins to lighten. She doesn't make camp, just gets some food and drink and lies down on a flat bit of ground, staring up at the hard edge between rock and sky.
The three-legged white cat flops down against her, and Onpahanvaanlampi helpfully sits on it.
You need a name, mysterious bag cat.
The mysterious three-legged white bag cat purrs.
Instead of drifting into sleep, Coraline slips into the Grey Lobby.
INT. Grey Lobby
The darkness licks at the corners, lingeringly. Whispers echo, almost unheard.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Welcome back, Keeper.
Oh, hi. I should really be asleep.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Perhaps you are. The fragment helps.
Yeah, definitely. I don't need to be nearly so drunk. I might not die of liver disease after all.
VOICE OF KYRULE
And the other effects?
Er... here's a question for you.
Why am I alive? Like at all. The Death of Souls should have destroyed me long ago - anyone else, it would have. So why not me? Why am I still alive?
VOICE OF KYRULE
There does appear to be a correlation to magical power. Shalias...
Only lasted a matter of months!
VOICE OF KYRULE
As a Keeper of Magic, she had access to considerable power, and months is still vastly longer the usual lifetime of a Carrier.
Your power may well be greater still. You have demonstrated a natural affinity to Cerrisian magic even despite not being Cerrisian yourself, and as a witch, your knacks are... unusual, to say the least. You have all the markings of one the Eternal's Chosen, and yet you simply appeared as if out of nowhere.
You're not Ordian.
VOICE OF KYRULE
There was an Ordian by your name, matching your appearance. She disappeared over ten years ago, when her entire ship vanished without a trace between Karoph and Taga'rite.
Coraline stares at the Voice.
Did she like cats? Did she have weird online friends she never even met? Send suspicious packages to them in the mail as a joke and nearly get arrested for it when customs opened one of them?
And then get bailed out by said friends when it turned out they were actually really good at fudging permits? And dealing with paperwork? And making calls to exactly the right people even while themselves mailing entire live bobcats across international borders? Labelled as office chairs?
The Voice gives Coraline a dubious look.
Believe me when I say I am very glad I did not actually open that package. Probably one of the weirder emails I got. "You know that package I sent? Don't open it. It says 'office chair', but it's a bobcat. Also I sorted out the customs thing. You're welcome."
And then I go answer the door and there's a package outside. And it's growling.
Agata appears in midair nearby and drops to the floor.
Animal control was a little confused when the lynx terrorising the neighbours later turned out to be... not a lynx.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Who are you?
I wish I bloody knew.
The figure of the DARK SISTER coalesces nearby out of tendrils of black, perfectly dark, but gleaming, glittering. Wisps of the black flow and swirl around her, like smoke.
A moment later, she's gone. In the darkness around them, in the shadows behind shapes and things, in the gleaming, sand trickles into the shape of the known. Beyond it, almost perceptible, is something bigger. Interconnected shapes, and...
VOICE OF KYRULE
There is noone there.
You might be hallucinating. Again.
The Voice stirs, as if hearing something off-script.
VOICE OF KYRULE
VOICE OF KYRULE
Ense Vardaman. You have little time.
EXT. Soravian wilderness - early morning
Coraline gets up quickly, using her staff as a prop, grabbing a bottle, shoving cats in her bag. Ash demons drift lazily away. She looks around, but there's no sign of anything amiss.
Time for what?
Go west. He was taking you that way before, so he may not expect it.
Coraline hurries out, away from the dawn, cutting jaggedly around the edges of hills, looping back against the way she had come. The glow of the morning spreads behind her, flames of cloud licking out from behind the hills, higher mountains gleaming in the shallow light. A half moon glows vaguely down.
A clatter of horses echos against the hills around.
Agata hops onto a rock, looking back.
Bitter frost tickles her face as Coraline glances back as well.
Vardaman comes over the rise behind, galloping on horseback, leading the two others. In one hand he's holding the severed, charred head of the floor zombie, with a shoulder and part of an arm hanging off. The floor zombie has a long red ribbon tied around its neck.
(calling out clearly)
You have gone far enough, Carrier. Stop now.
Coraline pulls her staff off her shoulders.
She aims and shoots.
Vardaman dodges, running toward her, drawing his sword, and tosses the floor zombie aside.
Thimble plants himself in front of Coraline and hisses.
Coraline shoots again, aiming quickly, letting loose a rapid series of blasts.
Vardaman dodges most of them, and blocks another with a ward, casting it up wordlessly in front of him.
Coraline raises her other hand uncertainly, shaping out a spell.
The lightning crackles in her hand, wanting to move, and she casts it out in front of her, hurling it at Vardaman.
He slices through it with his sword, and it dissipates.
You stand no chance. Surrender.
Vardaman raises a hand and blasts at Coraline, trying to disarm her.
It doesn't work.
Coraline hurls fire, wreathing it around him, covering him, feeling its searing heat even at a distance. Several shrubs burst into flame around him.
The voice rattle, growing louder, returning to the forefront.
Vardaman rushes right through it, charging Coraline with his sword, and the fire slides right off him.
Thimble growls low.
Coraline steps over Thimble, raising her staff.
Vardaman thrusts at her, casting with his other hand.
Coraline knocks the blow aside with her staff and swings at Vardaman, even as the spell trickles over her. He blocks with his sword, so she slides the shaft down and tries to stab him with the bottom. He deflects, seemingly without effort, and yanks the staff out of her hands.
Coraline nearly falls over behind him, only catching herself on some rocks.
Vardaman tosses her staff aside, turning, and grabs her wrist as she jumps up.
Coraline drops down, rolling away, forcing him to let go, only barely avoiding careening down into the valley below. She draws her sword and swings at Vardaman. He ducks aside, parrying, twisting at her blade with his own, and she nearly loses it.
Coraline steps back uncertainly.
Argument of Hags yowls angrily off to the side, and jumps at Vardaman's neck.
Vardaman ignores Argument of Hags and swings around broadly, knocking the cat aside and sending Coraline's sword flying.
Thimble jumps at Vardaman as well, clawing down his armour ineffectually.
(on the ground behind them)
Vardaman evades what turns out to be some flying rocks, and shoves Coraline to the ground, pinning her with a hand to her throat. He draws back his sword, holding the point to her chest.
I will act as your judge in this life, as Kyrule cannot in the next. You are witnessed, as your soul has been weighed outside the eyes of the gods.
That's hardly your right.
Vardaman turns slightly in surprise, but doesn't move the sword.
You're just relieved you got to her before anyone noticed you screwed up. You're proud.
The spell hits Vardaman full in the face, and he recoils, dropping the sword. Coraline tries to get up, but he knocks her down again.
Deep darkness ri...
Vardaman punches Coraline under the chest, knocking the wind out of her. He stares at her uncertainly, surprised.
Agata pads over carefully.
Weren't you going somewhere important? Are you sure you want to stand judgement over her?
Behind them, the floor zombie slowly pulls itself toward them, using its remaining arm as a lever.
Vardaman plunges his blade into the floor zombie's head, and it goes still, the ribbon lying on the ground behind it like a lost pet. He turns back to Coraline, casting.
Bury black shadow sleep.
Everything goes black.