This/Survivors song/heap

From Zaori

This is the heap, a scratchpad for all the random snippets and bits that have yet to find a place.

Don't read it.

Contents

Karoliina Hämäläinen

trial of will

INT. Training room
Largish room, lots of equipment and stuff on the walls, padding floor in main part.
There's like 20 or so guys spread around practising some move in pairs - one has a stick, the other has pads, which stick-guy hits. One of them seems to keep nearly missing, and his partner keeps having to move the pads to catch the stick.
There are also two other men, a GUARDIAN and a deathdealer, TIMMS, who appear to be instructors of some sort. Timms is heading for the two missing guys.
Coraline comes in, looks around.
The guardian goes to meet her.
GUARDIAN
Can I help you?
CORALINE
I'm looking for the Deathdealer.
She sees him just as she says it, knowing him by his name, halfway across the room telling off some kid half his size. Havermeyer Timms. A hell of a name, but she's not actually sure which bit is the secret name, and which the public. If any part is public. That might be another name entirely.
GUARDIAN
Come.
The guardian takes her to Timms.
Timms doesn't stop what he's doing, now demonstrating the proper move. He finishes, and the two guys do it again, this time with no random missing.
Coraline waits for him to finish, and then he turns to her.
CORALINE
I was told to give this to you?
She passes Timms the note.
He opens it, breaking the seal, and reads over it slowly.
TIMMS
I see.
Coraline maintains her best blank look, and glances out at the trainees, seeing what they're doing, but they're just practicing the same move. It looks incredibly boring.
TIMMS
What's your impression?
CORALINE
What?
TIMMS
Based on what you see here, what would you expect of these men in battle?
Coraline watches them for a bit, trying to figure how one move would even translate to a battle at all.
CORALINE
Have they seen battle before?
TIMMS
(smiling slightly)
Not exactly.
CORALINE
Then... I don't know. An actual fight goes a lot of ways, right? Maybe they hesitate, maybe they strike first.
Whoever strikes first has the advantage. One on one, whoever hits hard enough first wins. Often there is an opening at first, too. They stop to taunt you, that's perfect. They don't even know you're there? Even better.
TIMMS
You've done this.
CORALINE
Yes.
TIMMS
How many people have you killed?
CORALINE
Does it count if they were technically already dead?
TIMMS
No.
CORALINE
What if they might as well be dead?
TIMMS
In what sense?
CORALINE
Carriers.
TIMMS
You've faced Carriers?
CORALINE
Not sure 'faced' is the right word...
Facing implies actually being there and fighting, not... kiting them into a river. Or shooting them from a distance. Or... er. That thing. Um. Yes.
TIMMS
What thing?
CORALINE
Are far realms creatures immune to the effects of the Death of Souls, or did I ruin a perfectly good tentacle monster?
It was this... large... thing shaped like a giant pile of writhing tentacles and covered in eyeballs that sort of... migrated around the tentacles. Which also had suckers that were totally unlike any cephalopod I've ever seen. Quite the fascinating creature.
Said it was lwawaghuh something I don't remember. That sound like anything you know?
TIMMS
...no.
CORALINE
Oh. Huh. Okay.
TIMMS
What about the living?
CORALINE
Right, yeah. Usually I just shoot them. Had to stab a lady with a knife once. That was... fun.
(she stops, rubs her head)
Or... did I?
TIMMS
Did you or didn't you?
CORALINE
No, that was the dream. I did kill her. Obviously. I'm not dead. That was the dream.
Sorry, it's a little confusing. I lived through it once, and then I went back in a dream and... saw a very different perspective. I think I preferred the original ending. I didn't die that time.
TIMMS
Tell me about the dream.
CORALINE
I... killed myself. It was too strong for me there. I was someone else, see... I couldn't fight it. So I had to kill myself before it...
(she shakes her head)
Dreams don't usually scare me, but that one did. To be so completely powerless, against such horrible odds. To do those things... when you speak the Prayer for the Lost, say their names for the god, are you looking them in the eyes as you do? Do you know them, did they lose their souls even as they fought at your side?
TIMMS
That... that is the true nightmare of the Deathdealer. I haven't had to carry this burden, but... this was in your dream?
Coraline nods.
TIMMS
Then perhaps you are here for a reason.
Let's see it, then.
(stepping forward and calling out to the trainees)
Larson, Hobbs!
Two trainees stop and look over, and Timms gestures for them to come. They do, and Timms passes Coraline a practice weapon, moving her and Larson to square off.
Larson holds his weapon loosely, watching Coraline uncertainly. She takes her starting stance - almost sideways, on the balls of her feet, sword held down in front of her. Larson adopts a slightly different stance.
Coraline takes a half-step forward and taps her stick at him probingly. He smacks back. Coraline deflects, slipping into one of the start patterns, guarding, getting close, evading his blows and knocking a few aside, until he unbalances, and she jabs him hard in the ribs, knocking him stumbling back.
Larson jumps back up in surprise as Coraline steps back, adopting the same sideways starting stance as before.
Timms nods, and Larson gets back into position, and they go again.
This time Coraline jumps straight to one of the later moves, disarming Larson while knocking him off balance, and then bringing both swords back to clobber him in the neck with their handles.
LARSON
Ow, dammit...
CORALINE
Sorry, usually I'm doing this on a robot.
LARSON
A... what?
TIMMS
Nevermind.
Timms gestures Larson aside, and takes the practice swords and hands them to Larson as well. The rest of the room, previously mostly just sort of watching from where they'd been practicing, start to gather around them as well.
Coraline just sort of stands there, waiting for things to start making sense.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Cat? Are you awake?
Timms hands her another sword, this one quite real, with the emblem of Kyrule on the blade. A Deathdealer's sword. He draws another himself as he steps back to face her.
TIMMS
Take me down.
Coraline eyes the sword and then gives him a very dubious look.
TIMMS
Or I will kill you.
Coraline sighs and adopts her general stance.
They spar, as the trainees watch. Coraline goes entirely defensive, evading and blocking, not even taking any evident openings. It goes on for a bit, and then Timms just stops.
TIMMS
Stop, stop.
Coraline lowers her sword, backing away.
TIMMS
I gave you openings. Why didn't you take them?
CORALINE
Those were feints. I couldn't take them fast enough to do any good.
TIMMS
For the sake of training, you need to go for feints.
CORALINE
I do? If I'm in a straight match up against a superior opponent and I haven't already run away, I'm probably not there to try to take him out. Maybe buy time, I dunno. But if I actually wanted to take you out, I'd... I dunno, drop a mountain on you or something. Shoot you. Shoot you really, really hard.
TIMMS
Has this happened before?
CORALINE
Yeah, the last Deathdealer I went up against I didn't shoot hard enough. I learned from this mistake.
Timms gives her an unamused look.
CORALINE
Look, maybe I manage to waste your time long enough for my friends to take you out. Maybe I show myself to be too much trouble, and you move on to easier prey and ignore me. Maybe I only buy a little bit of time before you inevitably kill me, but maybe that time is invaluable to someone else.
Maybe I just don't want to die, and will still try for as long as I can to not die. If I'm fighting you at all, though, I'm not even trying to take you out unless there's something I can specifically use to get advantage, because that'll just end me all the sooner too.
TIMMS
That's not the purpose of this exercise.
CORALINE
Then what is?
TIMMS
That you will take the chance. That you will risk.
CORALINE
I am risking. By fighting you up close at all, that's a huge risk! Why the fuck would I make it even riskier at that point?
TIMMS
You tell me.
Why would you fight me? What do you fight for?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
CAT!
(aloud, but under her breath)
Fucking...
Timms attacks. Coraline moves to defend herself, to try to keep up with him, but he's already behind her.




timms grabs her, stabs her. hurts, ow, bad, voices screaming, midnight swirls, death of souls blah blah blah coraline on floor, Timms standing nearby, sword all bloody everything's just kind of vague, swimmy, darkness everywhere, voices chattering in skull

they're all so bright, all the trainees, white against the black. Not timms. Timms is just black. Nothing. Not there...
No.
TIMMS
Get up.
actual words. odd, odd...
why are there never actual words? Ideas of words? Dreams have words, right? She clings to this distraction, urging it along.
something wet on her neck
another distraction...
TIMMS
Pick up your sword and get up.
Havermeyer Timms. Practically invisible, and yet that name...
focus. look with eyes
AGATA
(mind voice)
Nnnngh, Names, why are you dying?
she looks with eyes, properly, focussing. timms with his sword at her throat. Her own sword a few inches from her hand... she's pushes herself up. Grasps the hilt.
Gets up.
Her intestines scream, roiling. Blood oozes from the wound in her stomach, hot and thick, and she covers it with a hand, holding the sword in her other, leaning on the sword. like a cane, umbrella
Timms backs away, nodding.
The darkness looms, hanging heavy...
she tries to fight it off. she slips, falls. sword clatters, floor big, hard, solid, face.
It's there. It doesn't matter. She's fallen, and it feels good, she can't fall any further...
It hurts so much, and yet the pain of dying is nothing to the pain of the darkness around, the pressure, the screaming empty hunger, loitering behind...
She doesn't even try to get up, doesn't have the strength. She tries to writhe and puke, but doesn't have the strength for that, either.
Coraline moans in agony, unable to move.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names?
It shifts, it changes, one agony replacing another as the voices rise around her like a protective cloak, coming and going in waves as she tries to fight it off, but it's too much, too much hurt, too much noise. The noise is better...
Part of her, the only part of her even remotely still lucid, realises that it's over, what this actually means. She tries to form a soulbinding spell on herself, but can't focus well enough to make the shape of it, and nothing happens.
panic. voices. noise.
she tries to call for help, for anything, mind voice get them out of here, but she can't... no fight left.
Warmth. Certainty. A... hand? Glowing against the black, drawing her up from the darkness, out of the cold. It was all so cold, she was so cold amidst the nothingness...
The hand is a hand on her stomach, attached to a Timms. Some fading feeling of a healing spell? Something else too...
He helps her up, a bit. Sitting, maybe.
The darkness fades. The voices are quiet, or just... not here right now?
TIMMS
It's over. Just breathe.
CORALINE
(weakly)
I'm going to puke.
TIMMS
Breathe.
CORALINE
No. Puke.
Coraline starts puking, and Timms holds her up so it mostly just goes on the floor between them, mixing with the blood and stuff.
When Coraline is feeling a bit better, Timms helps her up. She wipes her mouth with her sleeve, which mostly just replaces the vomit with blood.
The trainees are gone, the room largely empty now.
TIMMS
Can you walk on your own?
CORALINE
Yeah, I... think so.
She fumbles at her pocket, trying to get out a bottle, and then finds it, but can't quite get it out.
TIMMS
Good.
(gesturing)
There's a locker room with showers through there. Get yourself cleaned up. Put on some fresh clothes. We'll talk after.
Coraline nods and shuffles off in the indicated direction.





Coraline gets cleaned up and comes back to find Timms and the other guy putting some stuff away.
TIMMS
(finishing whatever he was doing)
Come.
Coraline follows him into some office or conference room or something; he gestures for her to take a seat, and Coraline hoists herself onto a table.
TIMMS
I should have asked from the start. Are you sure this is what you want?
CORALINE
Let's go with a definite 'maybe'.
TIMMS
This is a matter of your life. You need to be certain, especially at this late stage.
CORALINE
Okay.
This being what, exactly?
TIMMS
Becoming a Deathdealer. It's a difficult enough path for anyone, but your situation will be worlds more so.
Coraline stares at him for a moment.
CORALINE
So let's picture this for a moment.
(gesturing)
So here's the loop.
(gesturing off to the side)
And here's some bushes off to the side of the loop. There's some squirrels in these bushes. They're cute squirrels. Really adorable. And they've been sort of amusing me for awhile now, but having spent all this time off in the bushes with some squirrels, I am now starting to get mighty curious what's the loop. Hmm?
TIMMS
What?
CORALINE
(tiredly)
What's the note say?
Timms passes it over.
Coraline reads it a couple of times, just to be sure, and frowns.
TIMMS
It's not what you expected?
CORALINE
(rubbing her head)
I'm not a reasonable person.
TIMMS
What?
CORALINE
And you have a truly beautiful name.
Fuck. Um... what I meant to say was... no. Sos didn't actually tell me anything, just said 'take this note to place', and given how he didn't seem to believe a thing I told him when I was mentioning some of my general combat experience, I'm not really sure where he got 'Deathdealer material' from... not that I'm not flattered that you might actually consider it?
TIMMS
He lied? Why?
CORALINE
Havermeyer Timms, I am not one to assume exactly what someone's intentions are, but suffice to say they were clearly, in this instance, that a certain someone is definitely getting a delivery of a whole lot of cat puke before the day is over.
Timms just stops and stares at her.
CORALINE
...why did I just say that. What did I just say?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Sorry, did I think that too hard?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
...what.
AGATA
(mind voice)
The delivery is scheduled. The agents are consuming as we speak. There will be a reckoning.
CORALINE
Good gods, what the fuck...
AGATA
(mind voice)
WE ARE THE WRATH OF THE ETERNAL.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
This is not how we enact our wrath.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Okay, but I'm just a bit lost on the whole...
AGATA
(mind voice)
I said I was sorry. This won't take long.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
While it is your right as Keeper to act as you choose, remember that the ramifications of your actions reflect on us all...
CORALINE
(mind voice)
You're talking to a cat.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Yeah, Jenkins. I'm a cat.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
'Jenkins'?
AGATA
(mind voice)
He's the one arguing with a cat!
CORALINE
(mind voice)
...What?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
You are a Keeper, cat.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I am a cat!
CORALINE
And I thought I was nuts...
TIMMS
Is the Eternal... speaking with you?
CORALINE
Uh... yeah, let's just go with that.
(mind voice)
Is it that big of a deal? Even if she does have all the bag cats puke on him, I mean, it's just puke, isn't it?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
Sos deceived and jeopardised a Keeper. There are laws that he violated in doing so, but if you exact revenge in this manner, there can be no further consequence.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
He may have been joking, but I'm not actually sure it was a bad move. Maybe I should become a Deathdealer.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
We cannot allow it.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Aww, why not?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
That would only endanger you further.
AGATA
(mind voice)
No, it's perfect. Do it, Names. Do it.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I mean how much more endangered could I possibly get at this point?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
You misunderstand. To take the Black... if you drink from the waters of the River of Death, it will kill you.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Only if the Eternal wills it. That's you, remember?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
All who drink die. To be Deathdealer is to be Dead Walking, in the world by our will alone. You give up your name, your soul, your life, and are Judged in that moment forever.
But you are beyond our Judgement. There is no soul to give, and your name and life are already forfeit.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
...are you sure? I mean, that it wouldn't work. I am still alive; such a death, perhaps...
Are you sure you wouldn't be able to keep me alive? At least from that?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
It is too great a risk.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
But you don't know?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Deathdealers are protected. It's just as likely to keep her alive.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
It is too great a risk.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Shouldn't it be my risk to take? If it did work...
And it's not like I'd have to actually go through with it anyway. I could just train. Learn from them.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Well, we're puking over here. Good talk.
CORALINE
Agh.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
Do what you will, then.
Timms gives Coraline a dubious look.
Coraline gives him a sort of horrified, confused look.
CORALINE
You ever think you actually sort of understand how things work, and then a cat shows up and all sense just goes completely out the window?
What were we talking about?
TIMMS
You didn't come here to become a Deathdealer.
CORALINE
No, but...
Okay. So bearing in mind that Sos bloody lied, and yes, I'm a Keeper, and my cat is currently puking all over his stuff because she's crazy, but all that aside, based... on what you actually saw... would you be willing to train me?
TIMMS
If that's your decision.
CORALINE
And you're not just saying that because I invoked your name, right?
There's a long pause.
TIMMS
You have skill, and the will to fight. With further training you'd be formidable, even as a Guardian. But it will be difficult for you.
CORALINE
How difficult?
TIMMS
You'll be behind in terms of training as well as the general education aspects. As a woman, you'll be physically weaker than the others and need to push yourself harder. And you don't have a team. Unless you can join an existing group, you'll be completing the challenges on your own.
CORALINE
Don't Deathdealers usually work on their own?
TIMMS
Some do. Most have small teams to back them up in the field.
CORALINE
Oh. Okay. So...
TIMMS
I'll train you.
CORALINE
Yay!
I guess.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Vengeance is sweet. And sticky. And pungent.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Cat, I really don't want to know.
AGATA
(mind voice)
This is for you, Names. All for you.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I hiiiiighly doubt that.

kikein (outing)

CORALINE
Kikein! Great goddess of the sea, mistress of the waves, singer of the depths! You, who have taken the ships of fools and stilled the lively waters!
You fucking suck!
VARDAMAN
Um, what are you doing?
CORALINE
Shut up.
Kikein! You're a terrible vindictive tart! Calling you a bivalve shellfish would be an insult to the bivalve shellfish community! Do you hear me? You're terrible and bad and... bad! And you should feel bad! And your datasets! They're bad too!
There's a bubbling and a rumbling in the harbour as the water begins to roil, and then a vast sharky figure bursts from the waves, rising up and towering overhead, peering down with glowing eyes. She opens her mouth, revealing vicious horrible teeth.
Vardaman backs away.
Various other onlookers flat-out flee, or hide behind things.
KIKEIN
YOU, MORTAL, DARE TO SUMMON ME WITH YOUR INSOLENCE?! I COULD QUASH YOU WITH A SINGLE THOUGHT!
COWER, AND BEG MY FORGIVENESS.
CORALINE
I think I'd rather shoot you. Because you're just that bad!
Coraline swings her staff dramatically and shoots Kikein.
This doesn't really seem to have an effect. Kikein just stares down at her.
CORALINE
See? I've shot you. So there.
There's a long pause.
KIKEIN
You're a bad shot.
CORALINE
You're a bad target.
KIKEIN
You're an insult to your kind.
CORALINE
You're an insult to my kind too!
KIKEIN
Your kind is death!
CORALINE
It is! And it's horrible! Like your face!
KIKEIN
All you are is a face. Soulless, empty, an audacious pretension covering the doom of all. They call you Carrier, but you just cover. You don't carry. You cover the plague of souls, and spread it, and then you succumb to it. And you cease to be.
CORALINE
Oi. That hurts.
KIKEIN
It will hurt far worse in time. Better that you drown yourself warmly in my waters.
CORALINE
Well fuck you too.
KIKEIN
Hah!
(leaning close, putting her face, full of teeth and blue and glowing, right in front of Coraline's)
I like you, mortal. If you do somehow survive your doom, return to me, hmm?
CORALINE
Heh, yeah, you're pretty fun. Just...
(quietly)
For now, could you, um, maybe do me a favour and distract everyone while I run away?
A small crowd has formed, still somewhat hiding behind things and keeping their distance, but considerably less so now that Kikein actually doesn't seem so angry after all.
Kikein laughs and rises back up over the harbour, showering water everywhere.
KIKEIN
A boon... for a boon!
The sunken ships all suddenly plonk back out of the water with a rather strange glargling clonking noise.
Everyone runs out of hiding cheering, praising Kikein, etc. Some of them approach Coraline, as well, but others seem more inclined to avoid her outright.
Coraline chuckles and scoots away from them, into the morass of crowd, where Vardaman catches up with her, leaning in.
VARDAMAN
You're a Carrier?
CORALINE
No! No I'm not, disregard, everything's normal, good, sane, yes!
Coraline runs away.
It's not very effective. Vardaman grabs her and catches her almost immediately, pinning her arms and spinning her around to face him, casting an all too familiar spell on her at the same time.
VARDAMAN
Skin!
It trickles down like a coldness under her skin.
CORALINE
(leaning away)
Um, if this is the part where you kill me, could we please go somewhere else first? I have a thing about crowds.
Vardaman shifts his hold, holding her arms with one hand, placing his other over her heart. Coraline tries to pull away, but his grip is still far too good.
CORALINE
Seriously, can we have this conversation somewhere else?
VARDAMAN
What...
Coraline gestures with her head away from the harbour and growing crowd and all that.
Vardaman gives her a very confused look, but then obliges, pushing through the crowd and very firmly taking her with him.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names...
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I don't know! That was the extent of my plan. Confuse him. He's confused. Now what?
AGATA
(mind voice)
I think you need a new plan.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Yes, thank you! Any suggestions?
Agata climbs up Coraline and jumps onto her head, eyeing Vardaman.
AGATA
Hi.
Vardaman stops, giving the cat a wary look. They're at least away from most of the people now, and the streets around them are weirdly empty.
AGATA
To answer your question, yes. It's true. This woman is a Carrier of the Death of Souls.
VARDMAN
Yes, I know.
AGATA
Strange, isn't it, how it lingers within her? I've watched it grow over months, and it's such a trickling thing. Not the hungering vastness we so often see.
VARDAMAN
No Carrier would last that long.
AGATA
No? You're a Deathdealer. Surely you know the story of Shalias the Betrayer?
CORALINE
Agata, what...
AGATA
I'm just giving context.
(to Vardaman)
Pretty simple context, really. This witch is the next Shalias. Maybe she'll actually do the needful, unlike yours. So don't kill her, or you fuck over you and yours and your idiot god something huge.
That's all.
Agata hops down and slinks off into a random alley.
Vardaman stares after the cat, and then just looks at Coraline.
CORALINE
Um...
VARDAMAN
Shalias was a Keeper.
CORALINE
Er... if I said I was too, would you believe me?
VARDAMAN
Could you prove it?
CORALINE
If I was, certainly.
VARDAMAN
Are you?
CORALINE
Maybe?
Vardaman gives her an incredulous, exasperated look, not unlike his previous look at Agata.
CORALINE
Look, yes, okay? Can we just get out of here, please?
VARDAMAN
Prove it, then.
CORALINE
No.
VARDAMAN
You just said...
CORALINE
I said I could, not that I would.
VARDAMAN
And you expect me to take you at that, preserve your existence because you might be a Keeper? I know you're a Carrier. You are death walking, not just to the living, but to the very souls of the dead!
CORALINE
I can be both.
VARDAMAN
(shaking his head)
A Keeper would know my duty is to end you regardless!
CORALINE
Fine! Betray your god, just like Shalias did!
VARDAMAN
What?!
CORALINE
I don't know!
VARDAMAN
What do you want, then?
CORALINE
I don't know!
Vardaman gives her an enquiring look.
CORALINE
(quietly, looking away)
I mean... I want to fix this. I want it to go away.
VARDAMAN
I'm sorry. As much as I might want to believe you, it changes nothing.
Give me another option.
CORALINE
(defeatedly)
I don't have one.
VARDAMAN
That's it, then?
Coraline shakes her head.
But then he doesn't kill her. He takes her across town, instead, not explaining, not letting go. Coraline doesn't resist.
They wind up at stables, go inside, stop by a set of three horses with matching gear hung up nearby. The horses react nervously, shying away from Coraline.
VARDAMAN
We can go over land to Soras. Avoid towns. Three weeks' journey, two if we don't stop. Will you last that long?
CORALINE
...yes.
VARDAMAN
I will need to keep you bound, body and soul. In case you... in case you're wrong, and the Death of Souls takes you fully.
Are you willing to do this?
CORALINE
I... why are you asking me?
VARDAMAN
You will need to remain alert.
CORALINE
Why?
VARDAMAN
Are you willing?
CORALINE
If I'm not?
VARDAMAN
I can give you a quick death. While you're still you.
AGATA
(from one of the horses)
We're willing. Do what you have to.
VARDAMAN
(staring pointedly at Coraline)
Are you?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Say yes.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
Your death would serve nothing. Die now, and you render everything you have suffered through to get to this point in vain, and everyone who has suffered for you.
You must not give up.
AGATA
(mind voice)
"Yes."
Coraline whimpers and nods.
VARDAMAN
(quietly)
I need you to say it.
CORALINE
Yes.
Vardaman relieves Coraline of her stuff, patting her down, and then binds her arms. He gets out a runed metal collar.
VARDAMAN
This collar will bind your magic. It will prevent you from casting and temper the effects of the Death of Souls. It may... feel a bit strange.
Coraline doesn't really respond as he clasps it around her neck, becoming almost seamless. It feels quite strange.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names?
Coraline doesn't respond.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names!
If you can hear me, say something!
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Nnng.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Good, we can still speak. You worried me.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What does it matter?
AGATA
(mind voice)
A lot, dumbarse. You bought yourself time. He hasn't killed you. Now you need to get away again.
Right? That was the plan, wasn't it?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Was it?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Yes? He'll be wanting to take you to headquarters, but Shalias had to get away from headquarters. Do whatever Shalias did, except do it right, and you'll solve this.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What did Shalias do?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Excellent question! We should really figure that out.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Would they know at headquarters?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Someone might, but either way you don't need the scrutiny. SINCE YOU'LL NEED TO GET AWAY LATER.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
How hard could it be?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Dammit, Names! Hard! They'll have guards and Deathdealers and masters of magic, and they won't let you out of sight, ever. They'll probably lock you in some cell when they're not picking you apart. You need to be able to act freely, and if they know what you are, they'll never allow it!
One Deathdealer's going to be hard enough, but once we're in the woods we can totally clonk him on the head or something.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Uh, we can?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Sure, why not.

loop - god of time

Coraline uses Vardaman's name, or something.
VARDAMAN
You're a Keeper?! Why didn't you invoke the Rite?
Coraline maintains her best blank look.
VARDAMAN
The Rite.
Soul's Rest?
You don't know...
You speak with the voice of the god, and yet you've not had any of the training, have you? What kind of Keeper are you?
AGATA
A really shitty one, clearly.
Coraline continues to not say anything for a bit.
CORALINE
What... is it? The rite.
VARDAMAN
This, basically. Except without all the fighting each other.
A Keeper afflicted with the Death of Souls invokes the rite, and does everything in their power to learn about the Death of Souls, fight it, study it through every stage, until the end, with one or more Deathdealers as escort to... take you out whenever you do fully succumb.
AGATA
Gee, that would have been nice to know. Wouldn't that have been nice to know before all of this happened?
CORALINE
Uh... yeah, actually.
AGATA
Seriously. Let's go punch Kyrule in the face.
CORALINE
Eh?
AGATA
(waving a paw)
Punch. Kyrule. In face.
Vardaman and Coraline stare at Agata rather blankly for a moment.
Agata yawns hugely.
VARDAMAN
You don't even have fists.
AGATA
...so?
CORALINE
I think... it's the principle of the matter?
AGATA
Ense. Love. You gotta understand. We were in communion with the beast and he didn't even mention a thing of this. Was all 'gotta be strong' and what and not a mention, right? Not so useful beast, that one.
CORALINE
...'beast'?
AGATA
It's what the cool kids say.
CORALINE
...is this a hallucination? My cat is acting 'cool'. I'm hallucinating. Fuck. That's not even my cat.
AGATA
Heh. You say that, but...
Loose fuzzy fade out.


Later... earlier?:
Coraline doesn't use Vardaman's name.
CORALINE
Is there a 'Rite of Soul's Rest'?
VARDAMAN
No.
CORALINE
Is that a real 'no', or are you just saying 'no' because it's not relevant unless it's actually a Keeper saying it?
AGATA
(sitting up suddenly, hair on end)
I. WILL KILL. KYRULE.
IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO, I SWEAR IT ON ALL THE WORLDS, ALL THE GATES. HE WILL DIE BY MY HAND.
Coraline and Vardaman stare at Agata.
VARDAMAN
You don't even have hands.
CORALINE
(collapsing)
Oh yay another hallucination why do I even get my hopes up like this I'm just fucking hallucinating again.
AGATA
I WILL KILL HIM.
CORALINE
Yeah yeah, shut up, hallucination.
Coraline lies there waiting for the hallucination to go away, and then looks a bit miffed after a bit when it doesn't.
VARDAMAN
I may regret asking this, but why do you think this is a hallucination?
CORALINE
Because the last one was! And this is exactly the same. Complete with your stupid rite nobody bothered to tell me about!
Except now my cat's escalated from wanting to punch Kyrule to killing him. Um.
AGATA
He will die.
CORALINE
Okay.
AGATA
Eventually.
CORALINE
Way to narrow him down to part of the entirety of everything, cat.
AGATA
He won't even have the decency to die when everything ends!
CORALINE
Uh huh.
AGATA
Horrible... horrible god thing!
Agata rants a bit.
Slow lazy dragging fade out.


Later/even earlier:
CORALINE
Did I ever ask you about the Rite of Soul's Rest?
Vardaman gives her a long look.
CORALINE
...followed by my cat deciding to kill Kyrule? Or punch him in the face. Or... generally whatever involving violence upon his... person.
VARDAMAN
...no.
CORALINE
I wonder if this is a hallucination too. Is this also a hallucination?
VARDAMAN
You're asking a possible hallucination if it's a hallucination. What exactly do you hope to achieve by this?
CORALINE
I... have no... idea.
After a long pause.
CORALINE
I'd say I'd like to invoke the rite, but I don't. I don't know why I don't, but I don't.
VARDAMAN
Are you a Keeper?
CORALINE
Naw. I lied. And I wouldn't want to invoke the rite even if I were.
VARDAMAN
Why not?
CORALINE
I doooon't know.
VARDAMAN
You know the entire purpose of the rite is... this, right?
AGATA
Yup.
CORALINE
Yeah, well, for whatever reason it's not for me.
VARDAMAN
Because you're not a Keeper? Or what?
CORALINE
You know, I would really like to know that myself.
Rather poofing fade out.


Later:
AGATA
(while cleaning herself)
So I've put some thought into it.
VARDAMAN
I'll bite. Into what?
AGATA
How to kill Kyrule.
CORALINE
(startling a bit)
Huh?
AGATA
(licking her paws)
It's doable. I won't use my hands, though. You're right. That wouldn't work.
VARDAMAN
(dubiously)
...because you don't have hands?
AGATA
Exactly.
CORALINE
Cat, what are you... even on about?
AGATA
(between licks, absolutely deadpan)
I don't care if he has other plans for you. This, on top of everything else? That's too much. He has no right.
CORALINE
Technically...
AGATA
No. You're the Apostate Keeper. He has literally no right to do this to you.
CORALINE
I don't really think that's how it works.
AGATA
Well it's how it should. And because it isn't, that's why I'm going to kill him.
CORALINE
Ugh. I'm too tired for this. I don't even know what's real anymore...
AGATA
That's the fun part. Pretty sure it all is. He's the god of time, you know...
CORALINE
Great.
...how the buckets you planning to kill the god of time?
AGATA
Now that is the brilliant part.



Later:
CORALINE
Is Kyrule the god of time?
VARDAMAN
Er... yes?
CORALINE
Fuck.
AGATA
Told you.
CORALINE
Seriously cat, how the fuck you planning to kill him? I really wanna know.
AGATA
Ah, you know. He knows! We all know. Don't you know?
CORALINE
No.
Vardaman looks at them both, rather concernedly.
CORALINE
WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?!
AGATA
Who?
CORALINE
You! Kyrule! YOU!
AGATA
...because I can?
CORALINE
Agh.
VARDAMAN
...what?
CORALINE
I don't even know.


Later:
CORALINE
(mind voice)
This is so fucking stupid.
AGATA
(mind voice)
That's what makes it so funny.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
You understand now.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I REALLY FUCKING DON'T.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I'll try to phrase this as politely as I can.
lollollollollol.
CORALINE
Holy fucking shit he's serious.
AGATA
IT'S SO HILARIOUS.
VARDAMAN
How exactly is this funny?
Coraline just stops and stares at him.
AGATA
Oh, not you. Kyrule. Fucking madman. Mad... god?
CORALINE
Madgod. It's a term.
AGATA
Madgod. Yes. Wait.
CORALINE
He is totally the local Sheogorath. In pretty much every way.
AGATA
God of order who was driven mad as punishment for being too powerful?
CORALINE
Take his and Eapherod's stories and mix them up a bit, and pretty much.
AGATA
Uuuh... Shivering Isles?
CORALINE
A dream realm of layered realities, with manic colours and bleakest despair in amongst the lot. The city is an island bordered by seas on all sides, though there's a few different, uh, kinds of seas?
AGATA
Cane with an eyeball on the end.
CORALINE
...okay, you got me there.
AGATA
Spiffin' psychadelic suit?
CORALINE
Dammit that's actually Sherandris. Totally different god.
AGATA
Fishstick! Make a comeback here, Names! You were so close!
CORALINE
...I cannot for the life of me picture Kyrule doing the fishstick.
Agata puts her ears back and does her best adorable scared face.
CORALINE
But then again I can't picture actual Sheogorath doing the fishstick, either, so I guess that jives?
AGATA
Okay. One more.
The hill of Suicides.
CORALINE
I... uh... don't think pushing ghosts off hills to 'kill' them is at all in line with Kyrule's... plans, no...
AGATA
Stop being so literal. What does the Hill of Suicides represent?
CORALINE
...the importance of skulls in the cosmic order of life and death?
AGATA
No.
CORALINE
Uh...
Agata does another scared adorable look.
CORALINE
...suicide... bad?
AGATA
Sherandris is more Sheogorath than Kyrule, isn't he?
CORALINE
Er. Probably.
AGATA
(to absolutely nobody present)
I'll claw your eyes out.




The Rite Of Failing Sunset? Invocation of Eldor's Sequestration? Rite of False Walking Rite of Soul's Crucible (okay I stole that one from Cultist Sim) Khaezlan's Cessation Rite of Second Expungement

Invocation of the Medicant's Misery

Join the temple, investigate some murders, and generally be a drunken lout

Abaeranoth, also sometimes known as Abo and Waterfall City, was old, dirty, overly fancy, and utterly full of people. It was also, inexplicably, built in layers into a mountainside, right in the middle of a waterfall. Nobody who knew anything about city planning could explain the logic of this, but there were a few who suggested the answer might have been 'elves'. The elves had built it, the place had survived over 5000 years with little damage, and now here it still was. Magic was likely what was keeping the entire thing from eroding underfoot, and magic was definitely what was powering the teleporters that kept it livable, enabling passerby to jump from level to level simply by touching an obelisk.

And elves, as it turned out, made excellent brewers. After a point it became increasingly difficult to object to any inconsistencies presented in the logic.

Assassination

She felt something brush by her and instinctively reached out to swat at it. It turned out to be a man, who materialised in front of her as her hand brushed his arm. He grabbed her hand and yanked her forward, and then suddenly let go, vanishing once more.

She felt... funny. Like it was raining, except there was a cramp in her chest. She noticed that the group of priests had apparently seen the commotion and were moving toward her. Why were they worried? People vanish sometimes. She'd had weirder patrons. He hadn't hurt her. Had he?

She looked down and realised there was something stuck to her chest, and everything was getting very, very fuzzy. "Oh," she said softly. This wasn't supposed to happen. Had she failed? She realised she had, and the panic filled her like the greatest of nightmares, except it was fuzzy and distant, and it was too late now anyhow. Even the magic wouldn't come, just a terrible blankness where it should have been, and a dagger where her life should have been.

Then the darkness was flooding back, full of voices. Except this time the voices were different - welcoming. Familiar, rising around her. One of them said, "Fucking batshit."

She thought she felt someone catch her.

Sober

She awoke to voices. They swirled around her, content to a roar, to a whisper, pleading and cajolling, begging and screaming and chittering. They were everything. The world. A whole lot of nothing. She had to think, to get away, to stop them, but they would not stop and she could not think, so instead she looked about in desperation and found a whole lot of some things. Some walls, mostly. Some furniture. Some objects. A couple of other objects that swirled with their own strange whispers, their own odd shadows. Souls. Mortals. The strange ones that came after. The strange ones that never were. A myth. A legend. And still the voices, yelling and shrieking and singing with madness.

One of the shadows mouthed words and they formed in the space, jostled by voices. They were torn to pieces before she could even try to read them, so she mouthed her own, told the shadows what she needed, whatever it was. She didn't know. The cacophony was too great to tell, there was only clamour and sense and what needed to be done, and so she did it, pulling out pieces from her bag and mixing them in the glass that was now before her. Vodka. Adder root. Seravos. Denna seeds. Less juice. Ghorram. A concoction that mixed to the rhythm of the voices, the voices that overwhelmed, the voices that defined the instant.

It hit her like a brick to the head. Possibly a gold brick. Possibly wrapped in a slice of lemon, possibly taken to the brain. She had no idea. Everything was just swimming. The voices were gone. The glass was empty. The men were staring at her in concern, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Gravity thought it did, but it really didn't matter either. She eyed it warily regardless.

"Whaaaah," Coraline said finally. Or something along those lines. She didn't really know. It didn't really matter. One of the men said something else, and the other responded, saying something as well. Whatever it was, it was lost on her. Then the latter was guiding her out of the swimming room into a swimming corridor and through swimming halls and everything was just gloriously fuzzy beyond belief.


Coraline's head hurt. She felt heavy. Everything felt heavy. Her body felt heavy. The blankets felt heavy. The hand on her shoulder felt heavy.

"Get up," the man in robes was telling her. "You need to get up."

She groaned, or tried to, though nothing really came out. The heaviness was immense, rather like the pain in her head. She could hardly even imagine what it would be to move. The scope of the very prospect seemed epic, a feat for the ages.

Then he was pulling her out of bed himself, and she was even helping, sort of, and then she was standing before him and he was looking at her uncertainly, and her head really hurt. The light hurt. The shadows hurt. His face hurt. Everything seemed to hurt. She closed her eyes.

That hurt too.

"Come," he said, and she realised even his voice hurt. But she followed him regardless.

Space around seemed to swim as it passed by. It still hurt her head, but swimmingly. So she stared instead at the guy's back, at the robe that rippled as he walked, but that, too, was swimming in strangeness. And that, too, hurt. She almost tried to think about what had happened, how this had happened, but the prospect of that, too, hurt. So she didn't, and simply followed.

Ritual

He gave her the skull, and she held it in her hand uncertainly. She had absolutely no idea what was supposed to happen here, but clearly something was supposed to happen, so she held it up, and addressed it, "Alas! Poor Yorrick, I knew him well, Horatio, a man of infinite jest, of... er..." She looked around, then hastily handed the skull back. The keeper took it, looking rather surprised, but nodded.

Coraline stared at him blankly.

More ritual

They were before an alter. Coraline looked at it blankly. It looked like an alter.

"Well?" the priest finally asked.

"Oh," she said.

"Will you pledge yourself to Kyrule?" the priest persisted.

"Sure," she said. "Why not?" Kyrule was fine. She'd not named him for nothing. Or had she? She couldn't really remember. Her head hurt too much to press the matter, anyhow.

There was an awkward silence.

On a whim, Coraline poked the alter. "Hi," she said.

Then she was surrounded by warmth, suspended in light. The pain faded away into nothing, and everything simply faded away. She found herself floating amidst nothing at all, at peace with the world. At peace with nothing. Everything was simple, clear, laid out before her.

And then it all flooded back - not the pain in her head, but the world itself; the voices, just out of reach; the room swimming around her; the alter; the mask; the priests looking on, overseeing this ritual she had probably just completely butchered.

"Holy buckets," she said.

Lunatic woman

Coraline is on a messy bed, with old sheets. She wakes slowly. Her head hurts and she touches it briefly, then notices the woman nearby, moving her head unusually and rubbing it as well.
WOMAN
This isn't. It's wrong. Too late.
(she notices Coraline and backs away)
Waking. Stay back!
The woman makes a threatening gesture.
CORALINE
It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you.
Are you okay?
WOMAN
No? Okay. Not okay. Not the words!
(she grabs a knife and points it)
If just the right words. If you could hear what I'm trying to say!
CORALINE
I hear you.
(she sits up and takes in the room, before looking back to the woman)
What are you trying to say?
WOMAN
What? No. No, no, no. Not possible. That's not.
The woman waggles the knife and then suddenly drops it and scoots toward the other side of the room, toward a makeshift oven, muttering something.
Coraline looks after her confused, then gets up and quickly grabs the knife off the floor. She gives the madwoman another worried glance, but the madwoman is still muttering at and poking the oven, so Coraline goes and checks the 'door'. It opens slightly when she tests it, clearly not locked.
When Coraline turns around again, the woman is standing in the middle of the floor staring right at her.
WOMAN
You. Do you... understand me?
CORALINE
I... I think so?
WOMAN
But the words. These aren't... the words are broken.
CORALINE
Words don't break.
(she hesitates)
I understand you fine. Tell me what's wrong.
WOMAN
These...
(there is a long pause as she figures out how to explain it)
I can't speak words. I can't hear them. Not the right words. Unintelligible speak. I hear people and I know they know what they're saying, and I know what I'm saying, but they don't know what I'm saying and I don't really know either except it's not the right words, even in my head it's wrong. Jumbled. Wrong words. I try to say my words and they come out wrong. They're not right. They're not right.
CORALINE
So it's... the wrong language?
WOMAN
What? No! No, not language. Words from the language. Not the right words, but words. That aren't the right words. I don't understand them. Not my own, not others. Not until... right now. With you?
(she cocks her head weirdly)
You're... different.
CORALINE
That's... aphasia?
The woman looks confused.
CORALINE
It means... it means you can't speak because the words aren't going through your brain right. So the associated meaning just gets lost...
How long has it been like this?
WOMAN
Months. Years. All the same I don't know.
CORALINE
And you've... been here?
WOMAN
Can't go home. Can't speak and tell them how to open it, can't talk to anyone. Thought I was possessed. Demons don't possess, but they don't know that here.
CORALINE
Here, as in Cerris?
WOMAN
(she nods)
In Volundris they'd know. They would know what to do. How to fix this, how to fix me. But I can't get there. Can't talk, can't...
The woman stares at Coraline longingly, then her expression shifts to a sort of futile terror.
WOMAN
No no, no, no, no, no, no no NO NO!
This is a dream. Can't be happening. Can't even speak, no, so my brain makes it up, over and again. No! You're not real!
Coraline goes to her to try to comfort her. It winds up a bit awkward, but there's a hug involved somewhere, and some clinging, and a bit of random hair-pulling.
CORALINE
Shh, don't fight it. It's not a dream, I'm real. I have a hangover that is very insistent on this. I'd have it tell you all about it, but I'm afraid it's a bit of a personal thing...
The woman looks confused.
CORALINE
I understand you because I understand everyone. Language isn't a barrier, if something is meant by the words, then I can pick it up, and I can speak it in turn. Even if the words themselves are broken, even if it isn't a language. It doesn't matter.
WOMAN
How is that possible?
CORALINE
(she shakes her head)
I don't know. It started when I got to this world. I think... it might have been something a god did. So that I'd have a chance. Bastard.
The woman smiles slightly. Then the smile fades into another look of horror.
WOMAN
(accusingly)
And you're going to leave. With your god magic and your understanding. You'll leave, and there will be nobody left to understand. And it will be the same. The same.
She starts moving toward the door. Coraline scoots over slightly as well, but then the woman runs for it and blocks the way, hefting another knife as if out of nowhere.
WOMAN
I won't let you! I can't be alone! Not again! Not without words!
(yelling)
Without words!
CORALINE
Um.
(she holds up a hand disarmingly)
Do you have a name, madwoman?
WOMAN
Rutabaga.
CORALINE
Rutabaga?
WOMAN
No, no, no. Words. Wrong. Names...
CORALINE
Names don't translate?
WOMAN
Yes! No! No no no!
CORALINE
No, wait!
(she holds out her hands again)
It's fine. You can be Rutabaga for now. We'll get you fixed.
WOMAN
What? No! It's not possible!
CORALINE
Rutabaga, listen to me. You said in your world, in Volundris, they'd be able to fix this. We just have to get you there.
WOMAN
But the names...
CORALINE
I know the name because I've heard it before.
WOMAN
No...
CORALINE
I'll get you there. I'll get you home, trust me.
WOMAN
Trust?!
CORALINE
Trust me. You're alone, you can't talk to anyone, you can't tell them what you are, what happened to you. They fear you because they do not understand, and yet you mean them no harm, you simply want to be, and to go home, and to speak? To share your words, to share your experience, to have someone undestand, to not be alone. That's what you want, above all else.
The woman stares at her.
CORALINE
I know this because it is the same for me, not because I cannot speak, but because I can, and even more so because of what lies within me. A curse. I, too, am broken, in a different way. Just an emptiness. Voices and pain that I cannot explain, I cannot tell anyone, even when I need more than anything else someone to trust, someone to turn to and tell me everything will be okay, because there isn't anyone. Not anyone at all.
WOMAN
But you have words. You have the words! You can explain, tell them what it is...
CORALINE
Tell them what? Tell them that I am the Death of Souls, that I am the Carrier?
The woman expresses some sort of shock, and a small amount of fear.
CORALINE
I know what it's like to be alone! I'm trying to fight this, but instead of helping, all those who even know anything would rather kill me. Do you know how many times I've been turned away, how many bounties put on my head, how many swords drawn at the very mention? I know what it's like!

Lunatic woman (prose)

In the simplest sense, the Zirthaad of Ord were, essentially, large mantid-like bug people, though they weren't insects, and they weren't spiders, and they weren't crustaceans, nor were they even related to anything seen on the other worlds. In fact the Zirthaad were aliens in the truest sense of the word; while humans, elves, and orcans had all developed in a sort of weird parallel across their respective universe fragments, the Zithaad had developed completely off to the side on a rather different planet, and only ran into the orcans considerably later during an interstellar colonisation mission.

They then proceeded to have a massive war with the orcans.

And they then, at the very brink of annihilating the orcans, discovered that the orcans, too, had souls.

And they then stopped and made nice and helped the orcans recover as a species and civilisation, much to the orcans' confusion.

Several thousand years later, this was all ancient history, but still, to the orcans, and now to the elves who had more recently joined them in Ord, very confusing.

To the Cerrisians, on the other hand, it was not confusing at all, because the Cerrisians knew absolutely nothing about any of this whatsoever and instead, if they ever saw one of very, very few Zirthaad who ever wound up on Cerris, generally assumed they were some sort of fae. Large, quadrupedal fae with two arms and two raptorial forelimbs, and wings, and very large eyes, and, on top of everything else, generally a full head of surprisingly mammalian-looking hair. And antennae.

The one staring down on Coraline was looking disturbingly dirty and decrepit. It looked a lot like a praying mantis. A large, dirty praying mantis with an extra set of arms, gnatty dreads, and several layers of rags, staring down at her in what, if nothing else, felt like terrified confusion.

Coraline stared back in similar confusion. If this was normal, she'd never seen one before. Had she? Where was she? Where was Agata? Her head felt like it had a nail in it, and this wasn't a hangover, or even hangover-related.

"This is not," the mantid whispered. "It is wrong. Too late." The voice was strange, buzzing, but the language itself seemed normal enough, though not one she recognised, either.

"What?" Coraline said blearily.

It jumped away in surprise, making a threatening gesture with two of its forelimbs. "Waking. Stay back!"

She was on a bed, Coraline realised, though it almost seemed more like a nest, fashioned out of rags and wadded into a corner. But there was a very definite pillow thing under her head, and some of the rags almost seemed blanketty. Maybe they weren't.

She looked back at the mantid uncertainly, not really sure if it seriously expected her to jump up and attack it when she was still basically lying on her back. "Um," she said.

The mantid twitched a raptorial forelimb at her.

"Yeah, okay," Coraline mumbled, sitting up. "Either I've been taken hostage by a giant mutant bug thing, or I just have no idea what's going on here. I'ma go with the later. What's going on here?" She directed the question itself at the mantid.

The mantid was still staring at her, now shaking its head. "Not this one. This one cannot! Cannot say the words!" it hissed.

"Um?" Coraline said again, then asked, "Are you all right?"

"No. All? Not all right. It sounds like..." the mantid clasped its forelimbs to its eyes, then covered them also with its hands, shaking its head emphatically. "No, no, not it, not the words! Not the right words, sounds like the words, feels like the words, if it could just say the words." Its voice fell almost to a whisper and it stopped. "If you could only hear what it is trying to say."

"I hear you," Coraline said blankly. The mantid's voice rang with desperation, but the whole room felt a bit of it as well. It looked like some sort of abandoned storeroom repurposed into an abode of sorts. Shelves were covered in things. Boxes were stacked as furniture. Something of a hole in the wall formed what seemed to be a makeshift oven. There was even a small trickle of water coming down one of the walls, siphoned into a bucket, allowed to overflow into cracks in the floor.

When she looked back to the mantid, it was still staring at her under half covered eyes. Its antennae were back, almost flat against its head. "What are you trying to say?" Coraline asked curiously.

"What?" the mantid said, before backing away even further until it was up against the far wall, next to the oven. "No. No, no, no. Not possible," it muttered. "That's not."

Coraline got up quickly, heading for the door, but keeping an eye on the mantid as well. It was only a little taller than she was, she realised, though definitely with far more limbs, three of which had now turned to poking the oven for some reason.

She gave it a worried look and tried the door. It opened easily, completely silently, so she poked her head outside. They were still in the underhalls.

"Do you... understand this one?" the mantid asked behind her.

"I... think so?" Coraline said, turning back around, letting the door slip shut.

"The words," the mantid said, shaking its head. "These are not... the words are broken."

"Words don't break," Coraline said. "We break, but..." she hesitated a moment, uncertain just what to do. "I understand you fine. Tell me what's wrong."

"These..." the mantid began, shaking its head, but then it stopped confused. Finally it explained, "It cannot speak words. It cannot hear them. Not the right words. Unintelligible speak. It hears people and it knows they know what they are saying, and it knows what it is saying, but they do not know what it is saying and it does not know either except it is not the right words, even in its head it is wrong. Jumbled. Wrong words. Is tries to say the words and they come out wrong. They are not right. They are not right."

"So it's the wrong language?" Coraline wondered aloud. But that didn't feel right, either. This was definitely a language. And also definitely... not, she realised. It felt like databases class.

Reminiscing on cultisting

Three hundred years ago, Coraline Henderson, then going by the name Anja Torn, had been a regular customer at the Empty Cistern, even then one of the oldest taverns in the city.

It wasn't that the place was close to where she was staying (because it wasn't), it wasn't because it had good service (because it really didn't), it wasn't because the clientelle were respectable (if anything they were the opposite), and it wasn't because the booze was good, although it actually was most of the time. The reason she went here because because nobody cared - eveyrone here was here because nobody cared; nobody cared about the law, or about propriety, or about anyone else's business. People came, they went, and they got, if not exactly discretion, a good heaping dose of apathy.

So Coraline got no trouble here walking in dressed like an acolyte of Kyrule and ordering a triple-dose of 20-stone shalott, even though it was well-known that the acolytes were not permitted alcohol. Indeed, it seemed some of the temple's higher-ups had a made a point of visiting all the bars in town to let them know, just to be clear, but they would have skipped this one.

She got the same trouble as everyone else, of course. The general suspicion, shifty-eyed watching as she passed, the curiosity of what might be wrong with her that was gone as soon as she was, but that was really it. All in all, the Cistern of the time was the sort of place where the more normal you looked, the better off you were - if you looked normal, people had to guess, and the imagination often filled in far worse nightmares than reality ever could. And aside from the robes, Coraline looked pretty normal.

The only real trouble had come the first night she was there, or might have had she responded differently.

She had been sitting at the bar minding her shalott, wondering vaguely how drunk she could safely get and still maintain her cover, when someone sat down next to her and said, "Hey, you going to stop that?"

Not even sure what she should be stopping, she looked around. Turned out someone had died, something which often happened there - a body was slumped over a table and it sounded like people were bidding.

She took this in and just said, "I don't want him."

Somehow that settled it. The guy grinned gappily at her, slapped her on the shoulder, and left. This was the nature of the place, lawless, godless, and ruled only by the order of commerce, of what people wanted. And if someone died, that was valuable.

Of course, had she really been an acolyte of Kyrule and not just posing as one, that could have presented something of a problem. The religion was very much against the mistreatement of the dead, and selling bodies very much qualified as mistreatment in their book. But she wasn't one, and in her somewhat more practical view of things, the dead were already dead. They weren't apt to care.

Nor was anyone else, there. And so, during her stay in the city of Soransie, she came to frequent the place.

Lessons

As simple as a name on a board. As simple as putting it down and showing up. And then she was there. The instructor - one of many, as it would turn out - introduced himself only as Master Sos, said that this would not be a path for many, but welcome. Welcome to training.

Coraline only half paid attention as Sos ran through some basics. What the guardians were. What the guardians weren't. Principles for a fight, and for magic, and for faith. The notebook she had out in the pretext of taking notes was full of drawings, but a thought or two slipped in, and words found themselves on the page all the same. The boundary between living and dead, between fate and consequence, between waking and dreaming. These were what Deathdealers were, and others.

At one point, Sos asked if any of them had seen combat, and this was the first time Coraline had really looked up, and about, at the room. There were twenty or so of them in there, the acolytes, and a few raised tentative hands.

"Yes?" Sos said, gesturing at one of the hands to share.

"Well, um," the owner of the hand began. He looked to be in his late teens, but a bit more weathered than most. Freckles were thick across his face and arms. "We had a werewolf get on the farm, bothering the stock. Me and my pa, he tried shooting it, didn't work, but when we went at it with hoes it ran off."

Sos nodded, and indicated another to share.

This guy was taller, or perhaps he simply sat straighter. His dark, curly hair was pulled back behind his ears. "Not combat," he said in an odd accent, "but I have had training. There are moments when you do not know what will happen, even then."

"Moments, yes," Sos said. "Whether or not these moments prepare you for the real thing remains to be seen."

The dark-haired guy nodded.

"What about you?" Sos said, indicating the remaining hand, though it was well and truly down at this point.

The owner looked a bit furtive, like he'd hoped Sos wouldn't call on him after all, but then spoke up all the same. "Just... my dad," he managed.

"Your dad?" Sos enquired when he didn't continue.

The furtive guy just shook his head and tried to shrink behind his desk.

"He drank, didn't he?" Coraline said. "Lost himself and went after you?"

The guy startled, but shook his head.

"Your mum?" Coraline suggested. He didn't dissent, so she went on, "And you tried to protect her, didn't you?"

"I failed," he said.

"Maybe," Coraline said, "but if you want to know who really failed, look to your dad. Look to what put him in the position where all he had was drink in the first place. He's the one who failed, and you're going to do better."

He stared at her.

Coraline winked at him, wondering vaguely if her saying it could possibly be enough to make it true.

"And you," Sos said, now looking at Coraline. "Not many women go for this path."

"Uh," Coraline said. Sos was looking at her with a surprisingly piercing gaze. She glanced around at the room, only then noticing that she was, indeed, the only woman here. "Well," she said, "Most women just aren't pretty enough, I guess?"

Sos gave her an unamused look, though a few other chuckles occured throughout the room. "Somehow I don't think that's quite it," he said. "Why are you here?"

"Because... it didn't say I couldn't?" Coraline said blankly. Flat out curiosity didn't really bear mentioning, but of all the things she'd shown up to, this one may have had the most reason beyond that: she needed to know what she was up against.

"You're going to need a better reason than that," Sos said flatly.

"I can fight," Coraline said. "I've had training. Maybe I want to actually do something with it." That wasn't entirely true. Technically she'd been the one training others. Better with a bow than most of the town, and definitely more disciplined,[1] she had joined the militia on the condition that she not actually fight. She had been the one to break this condition the one time the militia had been called for a real battle due to zombies, mostly out of a complete lack of any faith whatsoever in the men.

"Really," Sos said. "What with?"

"I'm proficient with a bow and staff," Coraline said. "But my specialty is guns. Ordian weapons."

Arbitration

"I have spoken and that is final. Shut up leave me alone I'm drinking."

Wizarding

Basic Necromancy was at four. It covered the general theories, and would begin practical studies in reanimation in the next few weeks. Coraline was good at theories, but the reanimation part worried her. It sounded suspiciously like magic, and she had no idea if she could actually do magic.

Not normal magic, at any rate.

Elementals

Coraline had a problem with elementals. Namely with the entire concept.

They were supposed to be summoning air elementals today, but though she pointed out air wasn't really an element, the professor wouldn't listen. So she tried to think of something that was air. Oxygen? An oxygen elemental would probably burst into flame. Nitrogen? But what the hell would be the use of that? It'd be invisible. Carbon dioxide? Good way to suffocate people, if nothing else... but not exactly an element either. Hydrogen would flat out explode. Helium would be funny but not very useful.

Something radioactive, perhaps. Radon? She could give everyone cancer! Okay, maybe not that either.

She sketched out a periodic table in search of ideas. Something further up the table, something inert. Neon? Nice noble gas, and nice and colourful if given electricity... sure, why not.

So she focussed her mind on neon - atomic number 10, simple assortment of electrons, nobody cares about the neutrons - and she twisted it into the spell they'd been going over all morning, with, of course, an added electrical current thrown into the weave to make it actually show up.

There was a brilliant flash of light, and then a form of intense red appeared before her. She giggled as the rest of the class turned to look, then shielded their eyes from the red-orange glare of the neon.

"As I said," she announced to the class, "Air is not an element. This, however, is. It's neon, one of the elements that is found in air."

"Cute," the professor said, and gestured to dismiss the elemental, though when Coraline felt a bit of a rush of warm air afterwards she was pretty sure it had just exploded.

Random

"It's not that I'm incredibly drunk," she said. "It's just that I am incredibly drunk."




"It's not like I'm worried. If I could think straight about anything I'd be worried, though."




It hadn't been the sister. It had been the sister's dog.

stuff

  • wallet
  • phone
  • bluetooth
  • mouse
  • three flashdrives
  • bus passes
  • cuddly sea-anemone toy
  • two books - House of Leaves, Guild Wars Factions art book
  • pens/pencils
  • notebook/pad thingie
  • wad of eraser - 'kneaded rubber'
  • floss
  • screwdriver set
  • wirecutters
  • pliers
  • two knives
  • set of upholstery needles
  • file
  • pair of chopsticks
  • small scissors
  • MAGNETS
  • hairclips
  • sunglasses
  • extra socks
  • small mask (filigree-style)
  • tube of ointment
  • superglue
  • deodorant
  • lip colour (paint stuff and balm)
  • empty metal water bottle
  • bars of soap
  • clothes
  • spoon
  • bristle comb
  • set of small pots
  • some dried food
  • smoked meat
  • waterskin
  • some money (Verash currency)
  • rope


  • Strange coin


  • jeans
  • xkcd sysadmin t-shirt
  • huge-ass coat
  • scarf
  • beanie
  • mittens
  • boots

...and a staff weapon. Dzang, girl, you go into the world with an odd assortment of junk.

Oath

"Kyrule of Arling Tor, I will guard you, now and always. You know I will."

Fuzziness.

Dead Agata

"Agata..." she turned fractically back to the high priest. "I had a cat with me before. Have you seen a cat anywhere? Is she alright?"

He frowned. "No," he said slowly. "Why...?"

She looked around, trying desperately to remember. The priests were watching her curiously, but this had nothing to do with them. Something about death. Blood. One soul?

There was a knife on the alter, and she grabbed it, looked at it in momentary confusion, slashed at her other arm, and immediate dropped to the floor. "Blood of my blood," she said, drawing the sigil again on the tiles. It was almost the same as before, but not quite. This one was for the present, for renewal. For life.

"What are you doing?" the main guy cried, and jumped forward to stop her. But the last stroke was quick, and she was done before her got there, flashing the entire shape into darkness, black smoke rising and coalescing in the circle.

She was already feeling light-headed. Bad idea, perhaps. But done was done, and the shape was there. Paws, whiskers, ears. Tail. A feline smile, a weight of fluff.

"It worked," Agata purred. "You're better than my last witch."

"Agata!" Coraline screamed, and drew the cat into her arms, hugging it, getting blood all over its fur and also herself in the process, but not even caring. She kept trying to say something else, but nothing would quite come out, and just sat there rocking back and forth, cat in her arms, tears streaming down her face, blood down her arm.

"What..." someone started to say, but was interrupted by the high priest sweeping forward and covering Coraline.

"Everyone, out," he commanded, but then ammended that the main guy could also stay.


Later, after the place was cleared and Coraline had managed to calm down a bit, he mused, "So this is how you survived at all. You're a witch."

"Good witch," Agata said. "Wouldn't have done this for my last one."

"Yeah," Coraline said. "Er, sorry about your floor. I kind of panicked a bit there."

"Floors can be washed," the main guy said, "but what of everyone who saw that stunt of yours? What in the hells are we supposed to make of that?"

Agata peered at him suspiciously. "Old magic," she finally said when nobody else said anything.

"To ressurect your familiar?" the high priest asked.

"She died for me," Coraline said. "I didn't know how to face that. I could feel her gone, I just knew what she'd done, and it was too much. So..." she shook her head. "I did something?"

"Wasn't completely gone, now was Í?" Agata said. "You still knew what to do. I was the only one who ever knew that."

The other Coraline

But if I do this, what about the real one? What if it deprives some other girl out there of her birthright?

You're from Ord, right? Coraline Henderson. A peculiar name.

Yes...

You don't know where you came from. Lived on the streets, hitchhiked about, eventually wound up here.

Lost family

Coraline entered the room hesitantly, so much so that Faulo wound up having to pull her the rest of the way in by the hand. There were three of them waiting there - an elderly fellow who looked oddly familiar, a woman who seemed quite preocupied by the ceiling, and another guy who seemed to be some sort of guard. A cliché of a guard, at that - he had a suit, some sort of gun thing, a pair of sunglasses, and what was probably an earpiece for the ordian equivalent of a radio.

The man fixated on Coraline at once and stepped forward hopefully. "Coraline?" he asked.

She startled at the name, but managed to mostly cover her surprise. "Um," she said. "Hi?"

"It is you," he said, smiling. "How lovely you've grown, just like your mother."

She looked at him, confused. She didn't know this man. This was all just a horrible inter-universal mixup. Except the thing was, he looked like her crazy uncle Frank. Just without the long scar across the top of his face.

"I'm sorry," she said, taking a step backwards, "but who are you?" She wasn't even sure if she was playing along or not at this point. Mostly, she was just confused.

"Coraline, this is Lord Teller," Seras said. "He's your uncle."

"Frank?" she asked quitely.

Heading to pick up material

NEVIN
So what are we doing?
Coraline looks around.
CORALINE
I'm not entirely sure. The lifespan of phonebooths is one of those mysteries of the the universe. Where do we start in a world that isn't quite the same?
Nevin gives her a confused look.
CORALINE
I'm not sure. It's been awhile since I've been in a city like this, and the last time... we knew where we were coming from and going ahead of time. Get through customs, got on the train, and the first stop was the place we were staying. And they always had information around the train stations, besides.
But this time we didn't come out a train station, we came out of same random guy's basement in the middle of town. We're the gunslinger lost in New York.
We need money, and we don't even know what shape it takes.

Deathdealers

They were down to three.

They had passed all the trials. Achieved all the things. And now, standing at the end, holding their mugs, they were down to three still standing.

It was a potion, that last step that would turn them into the true swords of the god. It was just water, of course, but it was also more than water. Molecularly it could be anything it wanted, Coraline supposed. She wondered what she was doing here, what she was thinking. This was not what she was supposed to be doing, she knew that much. But at the same time, it made sense. It had made sense all the way here and now here she was standing with these two warriors who were willing to do anything for their god, to give up all the world to be his will.

All she wanted was to survive.

She clutched her mug of water-not-water closely, and the others, too, held theirs in trepidation. All they had to do was drink. It could kill them, of course, but it wouldn't, not if they were truly strong enough to be what they needed to be.

Garen smiled slightly, and Martel just looked down.

It was Coraline who drank first, first a tentative sip, then large gulps until it was all gone, deep breath at the end. The others followed suit, not wanting to be outdone, and then Garen just laughed.

"Well, that wasn't so hard!" he said.

Coraline smiled too.

"Speak for yourself," Martel said. He was almost shaking. "It's over, then?"

"No," Coraline whispered. "Now we must last the night."

She sank to the floor slowly, drifting down like a lost shawl, down down down across the tiles, her hair trailing after into a whispering puddle, the others moving to catch her as she slipped out of grasp...



Coraline was lying on the floor. It was morning. Martel was sitting up, rubbing his head. Garen moaned.

"What... just... what..." Garen said.

"Yeah..." Martel agreed.

"That was weird," Coraline said, getting up. She felt better than she had in months, stronger, more aware, the voices pushed away into the back of her mind.

"What?" Garen asked, still lying flat on his back.

Coraline opened her mouth to answer, then reconsidered. "What... happened?" she asked. "Did you dream?"

Martel shook his head, then winced again. "One moment we were all drinking, the next... floor." He spread his arms to demonstrate, and added, "Looks like we all made it. Yay!"

"I'll drink to that," Coraline said, pulling Garen up off the floor. He practically bounced.

The door to the chamber boomed open and Harrus swept in. "Well, you're all Deathdealers now. Congratulations," he said flatly. "There are those who will think you are the chosen of Kyrule, but you know that's not true. You chose yourselves. You chose this."

"Kyrule's big on choices, isn't he?" Coraline said, cocking her head.

Harrus snorted. "You'd know more than most, wouldn't you?" Then he addressed the other two, handing each a coin, "I'm proud of you, you know. Now get out there and guard the world."

"That's it?" Martel said.

"What about her?" Garen asked, indicating Coraline.

The Pampered - evening

The place Coraline wound up at was loud. It wasn't a pub, exactly. It definitely wasn't an inn. It wasn't much of a restaurant or a cafe. Mostly it was a hole in the wall that happened to to have food, drinks, and a whole lot of noise.

It was also full of smoke.

Agata just rolled her eyes. She didn't even bother commenting.

Coraline trucked up to a random guy who seemed to work there, asked if they had shalott, and when he ayed, pushed her way upstairs and monopolised a table. Then Thimble and Tress hopped on the table too, leaving no room for even anything that would normally go on a table.

Agata put her ears back unhappily.

Coraline got her shalott, and only later did it occur to her to also get food. The food wound up on top of a cat, resulting in more than a few amused looks from other patrons, and a particularly irate one from the cat.

Then Agata asked, right in her ear, "Where are you going?"

"What?" Coraline said.

"Where are you going?" Agata repeated. "Are you even planning to go on? Or are you going to do something stupid instead?"

Finland

"Everything is forbidden in Finland, or if it isn't, then it's taxed."

~ A Finn

The thing about Finland is that, if one were to simply sit down and start describing it, it wouldn't even sound like a real county. It has seasons and people and things and glow-in-the-dark deer and giant statues of butts and tar-flavoured lemonade. It is a country where people will tack letters to the wall rather than interact with each other directly, where everyone will just stand around waiting rather than say anything when a bus driver forgets to open the doors, where personal space is not just valued, but imperative. Graffiti is short and to the point. Sarcasm and cynicism are taught in schools.

Metaphors comparing Finns to drunk, angry bears have proven effective, and general descriptions of antisocial engineers have also held quite well, despite most Finns not being, in fact, either engineers or antisocial.

One Finn explained, when asked how to approach a Finn, "You don't. You just don't."

Coraline was not necessarily an exactly average Finn, but she was also by no means unusual.

Steel (sword)

The thing with steel was that its hardness seemed to depend entirely on the carbon. If anything, the iron in it was the weakness. So Coraline had wanted a diamond sword. Just a big-arse sword made of solid diamond. Or better yet, some sort of carbon compound that was even stronger. Like... graphine or something. Because that was totally a thing.

Unfortunately Barney had thought her mad when she'd brought it up. Ambiguously more or perhaps less fortunately, this had also led to him following her around trying to sell her a sword for the better part of four months.

Now she had a sword she could scratch with her earrings, but on the other hand, she had a sword.

She drew it slightly and examined the blade, and realised Barney really hadn't been kidding when he'd said it had had her name written all over it. There, down the blade, was etched rather beautifully, 'Lyra Zidane'. An old name, now, but still a dear one, and she smiled slightly upon seeing it.

This ain't even living

CORALINE
Everything is noisy. That's my world. Constant noise. Sounds that don't fit, voices that aren't there, a clamour and tumult and thunder of noise, noise, noise that never stops, until one day when it will, when it will all stop and I will finally have peace, and on that day I will probably be dead. But it's still something to look forward to. It's something. No more fuzziness. No more noise.
GUY
And that's it?
CORALINE
It's peace. Freedom. Something else that ain't this.
GUY
It's death, though. That's not what you want.
CORALINE
Death? I'm already dead.
(she laughs humourlessly)
I'm drunk. I can't even put proper concepts together. I can't care about anything, not really. It's a life, sure, but it's not living. It's just one thing in front of another, moving, forward and on, but not properly living.
Because I still remember. I still dream of what it was to go through life, to be properly aware, to be a proper person interacting with the world and experiencing things in full without this fuzzy mantle covering all the sharp edges... I remember anger, fear, hatred. And pain. I remember them as concepts, but what they feel like I cannot even comprehend. Instead I'm just here, existing, ambling, and it's all good, all the time, but I cannot even love, either, not really.
GUY
That's not really...
CORALINE
It is! It's the only existence I've got, and it's horrible, but I have to have it, because the alternative is so much worse. Like this, I have fuzziness and a not-quite world, but without it I have nothing at all, only pain and horror and a terrible emptiness. And the voices, that never stop.
This, it's quiet. It's quiet, at least.

Digital

You forget so much when you go digital. You forget how to cut out and store a template for a poster, how transactions are all made on location, how you have no idea at any moment what is happening anywhere else. You forget the girls they hired to manage the records, you forget the store-rooms filled with nothing but papers, the indexing systems, the boxes. You lose the uncertainty of printing, and you lose the danger of only having a single copy, because now there is never only a single copy. You forget the worth of things, and only know the worth of names.

And then you go back. And you forget how much trouble it was to guard your name, how easily things could disappear, how scary it was when your entire work could be lost. You forget the monotony, the simplicity, the boredom. You forget what it feels like to run on the road, to go south for the winter, to come home after. You forget the friends you made and never met, the things they made you feel, the things you shared with them. You forget what it's like to have fifty pens and yet find that none of them are the one you want.

And then you go back.

Back in a world of ideas, of conceptual currency and ephemeral product. A world where food is cheap and work is expensive, a world where you can hop from planet to planet in a matter of minutes and yet still see nothing new. Updates stream throughout the stars and indeed here we know it all, and yet still we know nothing, because people. People never change.

Before

Strange mask: Kyrule

The mask was almost identical to the one she had in her notebook. Hers was a modern excuse for filigree: laser-cut aluminium. Here, intricate swirls and elaborate patterns arose out of the stone, mathematics of chaos that mostly worked out shifting in and out of focus. Only the circle at the top was empty, where the emblem should have been. The trinity.

"Who the hell are you?" she said.

Impromptu barkeep

"Then we'll have to come by later, get to know this new barkeep of yours." The officer nodded, tipped his hat at Coraline, and turned about and left, soldiers at his heels.

Delaroy just stared after them, panicked. "I... fuck!" He turned to Coraline, and said, "You need to get out of here. I can make up a yarn about how you fled, but you need to leave now if you're going to have any chance!"

"Wait," Coraline said, placing a hand on his arm. "Why not play it through?"

"What?"

She smiled disarmingly. "What's where, what do people usually get, what sort of cocktails are popular in the area? Tell me what I need to know, and I will be your barkeep."

He looked at her incredulously. "Do you know anything about bartending at all?"

"I know how to mix flavours so they work well together. I know a good barkeep judges the appropriate shalott based on body weight and height with some sort of scaling for apparent base tolerance." He looked sceptical, so she added, "I've seen it done a few times."

Delaroy sighed. "Look, I appreciate the offer, but I can't risk it. If it doesn't work, it'd be both our heads for sure."

"I wouldn't suggest it if I didn't think it entirely doable," Coraline said. "Remember, it's both our heads on the line, mine too. And even if they buy your story otherwise, that'd still be a mark, whereas this way you come clean and get a barkeep on top. You do seem to have been looking for one for quite some time, after all."

"But..." Delaroy started, then he seemed to change his mind and shrugged. "You know what? Fine. Come on."

Drinking and storytelling: Francis Door

"Francis Door," she said.

He took a long drink. "Yeah?"

"You know the story?"

"Yeah."

She downed her shalott and pushed the mug forward for a refill. "What do you make of it?"

He took a long breath. "Crazy shit," he said. "Damn crazy shit."

"How so?"

"Well," he paused, thinking. "You got this guy. A fuckin' normal guy. He loves a few things in life, his god, his work, his woman, and for them he'd give up anything. For any one of them he'd give up the others, if it came to it."

"Is that what happened?"

"Near enough. It was his wife's sister, if you can believe that. All the stories say it was his wife, what say it at all, but it was her fucking sister."

"What..."

"Right?"

They minded their drinks. Things swam swimmily around them, objects in space. They watched, and listened, and drank.

"Some folks would do anything for family," Coraline said. "Is that so wrong?"

He stared at his shalott and tipped it randomly. "'Snothing wrong or right about it. That's just it. Just shit what happens, an' choices what don't work out. Swhat makes it all so fucked up."

Kalona - winter, four years past

High in the foothills, Kalona was walled, dead, and silent, an oasis of silence cradled amidst the snowy trees. The heavy gate was ajar, but before it were bodies: three of them, collapsed in the road, discoloured corpses frozen through, arrows protruding from their backs. No sign of the shooters on the walls. No sign why the gate would still be open, if it were so imperative that nobody get out.

Not even cawing disturbed the whispers as Coraline approached. Just silence, and the roar of the wind in the pines.

She ducked through the partially open gate and tried to take in everything at once, staff at the ready. It didn't work; instead she nearly hit herself on the head with the staff and got her foot stuck in an upturned wicker basket she'd failed to spot on the ground. She stopped and tried again.

There wasn't anyone about. No movement between the houses and workshops, though something creaked somewhere. The streets were strewn with senseless objects.

She heard a creak again, but nothing of the view had changed. Above her a banner flapped half-heartedly. She pulled the basket off her foot, searched a few of the buildings, found some supplies and no people, and few bodies. In some, it appeared as though the occupants had tried to pack up and leave, with shelves bare and tables cleared quickly, while for others it was as though the occupants had simply vanished without warning. Fires burned down to ash, tables set, food out, tools in their places.

Leaving one of the last ones, she was startled by a creak again behind her, much louder, and then realised it was the door closing behind her, simply reminding the world that it was still there. It was still a door. It still functioned.

Again she looked around. Still nothing. Detritus and nothing. Dead objects littering the cobblestones, buildings gaping at the wind. Shutters hanging open, but doors shut tight, guarding the possessions of the dead.

Then movement caught her eye. Something around the corner over there. Gripping her staff, she moved towards it, and a sheet billowed into view before catching on the ground further on.

A moment later, rounding the corner proper, she saw someone. He appeared to be an elf, but mad, crazed, a hunched figure not aware of his surroundings, scrabbling at the ground as though chasing something that was not there, shuffling forward, all the while jerking to voices that existed only in his own head.

She could almost hear them as she watched. She wished he would speak. She wished she could hear the Mad Words, to really hear them for what they were, but instead the elf said nothing as he scuttled about.

He hadn't noticed her. She moved closer, but pointed the staff at him all the same.

"Hello?" Coraline called out. "Can you hear me?"

And he just stopped. It was as though the world had stopped with him, until he turned, so very slowly, and stared at her with gleaming, hungry black eyes. He stretched out a hand, grasping toward her, and then she felt him pulling at her mind, tugging at her very being. It was the strangest feeling she had ever experienced.

Her staff went off without her even realising it, firing wildly several times, and suddenly the feeling stopped. The elf lay dead before her, claw-like hands still reaching toward where she'd been standing. One of her shots had clipped the side of his head, enough to kill him outright.

Suddenly he looked so normal.

Verash - spring, three years past

After the constant mugginess of the rest of their trip, it had been an unusually nice day.

Merrs was riding ahead while Coraline and Costa followed behind and generally utterly failed to make conversation, though a few snippets did occur. At one point she asked exactly what Merrs' deal was.

"What exactly is Merrs' deal?" were her precise words.

There was a pause while he considered the question. Then, instead of answering directly, Costa responded, "It has been my life's work to seek out and, if possible, bring forth the Light of Azorres. A chosen one who would lead the faithful, acting as a guiding star in the world of the living, out of their suffering."

They rode in silence for a moment, then it hit her like a brick through mud, which is to say very, very slowly. "Merrs?" Coraline asked. Then she added, "So he's a very holy man."

"Yes," Costa said.

"I hope he doesn't want to be a waiter," she said.

Costa gave her a look of utter confusion. She laughed happily.

"Nevermind," she said.

They'd lost sight of Merrs over a small hill, but caught sight again as they topped the rise. Now he was joined by a small group of what appeared to be bandits of some sort.

There were four of them. They seemed to be telling Merrs to get off his horse, or something along those lines. Whatever it was, he wasn't doing it, instead just sitting there, apathetically ignoring them as they shoved swords at him and yelled crudely.

"Agh!" Costa yelled, and drove his horse toward them, yelling at the top of his lungs, trying to get their attention. It only took a moment and they turned toward him instead.

"Oh, look what we have here, lads!" one of them said, probably the leader. The bandit swaggered forward as Merrs slid sideways off his horse behind him. "Reinforcements!"

"You rat bastards!" Costa screamed. Suddenly the sky was full of lightning, cracking and thundering even without clouds. Then it struck, shaking the very ground and obliterating three of the four bandits in an instant.

At the same time, the horses bolted, leaving Costa clinging for dear life in an attempt to get his back under control, and Coraline on the ground not far away where hers had thrown her.

Aside from Merrs'. For some reason Merrs' horse was still just standing there.

The last bandit, who had somehow escaped the lightning, fled.

Coraline got up quickly, grabbing her staff. She seemed to be fine, but Merrs, on the other hand, wasn't moving. As she walked toward him, she raised the staff and fired, hitting the fleeing bandit in the back. She watched the man fall without even caring, and only as she dropped to her knees beside him did a look of concern cross her face.

"Merrs?" she said, rolling him over.

He groaned. There was blood on his jacket. It seemed one of the bandits had thought it funny to poke him when he didn't cooperate.

"You idiot," she said, pushing aside a few layers of shirts and jackets to find the wound in his abdomen, still bleeding. It looked deep, but she didn't know how deep, especially with all the blood. Whatever the case, she also had absolutely no idea what to do about it - even if she could stop the bleeding, there were probably some important organs in there, and such.

So she put her hand on it, instead, because that totally made sense, feeling the blood and the heat and the sense of pain and hurt, and then there were voices rising all around her, a strange sensation of drowning in nothing, and after the screaming, only blackness.


When she awoke, the voices were still louder than they had been, more present, more constant. The crackling flames before her hissed and spit and babbled, their voices right at home amidst the rest, and she watched them dance, not really thinking, not really listening.

She realised Merrs was nearby, weaving flowers out of grass. "Costa's still trying to find your horse," he said, not looking up.

Twilight glowed off the broken clouds, mirroring the colours of the flames across the landscape.

"What..." she began, then stopped. "Oh. Are you okay?"

"No worse for wear," he said, closing his eyes. The voices drifted in and about the spoken words like fishes.

In the end, Costa never did find the horse.

Verash - spring, three years past

Coraline had always wanted magic. Through her entire life, it had been a bit of a dream, a longing, a need for something more beyond the bland, bland world to which she belonged. Eventually she'd grown up a bit and her focus had shifted to words, which were their own sort of magic - the only magic her world had - and to dreams, where it didn't matter what was real and what wasn't. But dreams ended. Worlds faded as she always awoke, and after that there were only words. Sweet, sweet, tantalising words that still left her wanting at the end, because they, too, were never enough.

So she had pushed it away, that want, that need, and she had dreamed amongst her hoarded words.

But now she was here. And here there was magic. And it was real.

She wanted to be excited. She was excited. She wanted to sing and dance and shout into the wind, but the wind was elsewhere, taking the evening off. Something about it felt off.

And that's where the uncertainty crept in. Something wasn't right, because it couldn't be.

It couldn't be real. There was no way it could be real. It hadn't happened. None of it had happened. It was just a dream. A new reality, a new world with simple answers and big dreams and strange magics... and escape.

A way out.

She was a coward. After everything, she had proven a coward. All the dreams of being strong. All the daydreams and the nightmares and the playing with swords, after the chainmail shirts and the trebuchets and the illusions of power. Even when her parents had told her, no, no, little girls are not Roman soldiers, little girls are not alien commanders, they're... well, things that exist, princesses or something, she had still wanted to fight, to take on the world, to be that elf on the elephant, leading the army into the light. And a princess too, of course, but not just any princess. But then the brick of real life had hit her, and after everything she wasn't a princess at all. Not any princess. And she couldn't handle it.

And now here she was. Playing the hero, the strong, the gal who had everything in order save for a place to belong, because in this place that she had escaped to, she could never belong. There was no way. No way at all.

It wasn't real.

Some day she would awaken only to suffer for this silly dream, as she had suffered for all the others. As everyone had always said she would, from all of those that had come before. There would be no option to simply 'show them', for there was never anything to show.

The realisation hit her like real life all over again. That horrible search for a job. That wave of despair, those months teetering on the edge, those stories and dreams and words that had kept her afloat through it all, but only barely. That final surrender before it all ended. Here she was, wherever she was, alone. Hopeless. No future at all, just useless and dreaming. Hiding behind her dreaming, but the dreaming was shallow and it could not protect her. Nothing could protect her.

She heard them now, through the silky darkness of the night, the voices of her past and present. Calling out to her. Laughing. Mocking. Wondering. They didn't even care, for she was already lost, but sometimes they wondered. Whatever had happened to Coraline? Whatever had happened to that gal down the block, that girl in Databases who had always dressed up, that barrista with the funny hair? Oh, but she had failed, disappeared, fallen off the radar, never made it anywhere, not even out her own front door. They mocked and they chattered and they questioned. Who are you, little dreamer? Who do you think you are? Did you really believe it could be true? Are you this silly, this hopeless, this ridiculous? Oh, you pathetic little girl, you, who could not even handle real life!

Voices that rose around her, shrouding like a second night, voices that called to her fears and failings, voices that reminded her of who she had been and what she had lost, voices that left no room for escape, not now, not this time. And other voices too. Others which were not her own, others which were older, stranger, but just as bereft of hope as she was.

As the blackness pulled her under, there was not even silence in its shadows.


It didn't even stop when she awoke.

Coraline woke screaming. She couldn't help it, couldn't stop. Then the others were holding her down, holding her back, gagging her, silencing here, but even still she tried to scream, scream through the cacophony, scream for silence and respite, for an end, for an escape.

And then she realised it was gone. It was over, whatever it was, replaced instead with something else, something far more real, and she finally stopped. She was alive, and free, and here, and here she wasn't alone, here there were no voices, just the wind's singing, just Costa holding her down and Merrs telling her it's okay, she's home, he won't let her go. Just her overwhelming exhaustion, just a bird calling out to the day.

She nearly choked on something in her mouth.

"Gloria?" Costa said. That was her name, as far as they knew.

She nodded slightly.

"If I take this out, you're not going to start up again, are you?"

She shook her head, and he ungagged her. She tried to sit up and had some trouble at first, but then managed it. She was so tired. She couldn't recall ever being so tired.

"The hell?" she said weakly.

"I could ask you that," Costa said. "What happened? Do you know?"

She shook her head. "How... I feel awful." Merrs sat down beside her. It was midday and the sun was gleaming with the brilliant force of spring, but though the day itself was warm, she felt cold, even wrapped in her coat.

"You've been out an entire day," Costa said, giving her some dried yam. "We found you by the trees, but when I tried to heal you it was as though nothing was wrong. Nothing physically, at least."

"Oh," Coraline said. She realised she could still hear the whispering, even now, but the specificity was gone, replaced with only the usual vague voices.

She didn't know what to say. Was this... she didn't even want to think it. So instead she chewed on the yam and stared at the ground. Nice, solid ground. Lots of dirt and rocks and little half-dead plants and bits of twiggy things.

"You almost left. Has that happened before?" Merrs asked.

She shook her head. Not like this, at least. There had been voices, of course, but the last time they had stopped when she had blacked out, not like this. This had been so much worse. And this time there had been a feeling that had come with them. A sense of space, of vastness.

"When I healed you," she said. "It was kind of like that, only not really."

"And you feel better now?" he asked.

"Better," she said. "I feel like I got eaten by a cat with a gizzard full of toasters."

"But it already happened, and now it's over." Merrs said. "Now you feel better."

"That's..." It was a reasonable way to look at things, she supposed. "Sure."

Merrs stood and helped her up as well. "Come," he said, taking her arm. "Let's walk."

It was difficult at first, as she was quite stiff and quite sore, but as they got moving she began to really feel better. The stiffness and the pain subsided. She realised she was shivering, and drew her coat tighter. But she was all right.

Costa caught up a little later with the horses and everything packed up.

It was strange going, however. The world felt wrong. Not real. Not like a hallucination, necessarily, but like how it had felt going outside after spending 40-odd hours straight in a basement staring at four computer screens working on her animation final project, getting the last bits of details in the objects, setting up the lights and camera paths, and rendering, rendering, tweaking, and rendering.

Then she'd stepped outside with it all on a CD and the real world had just looked wrong. The leaves on the trees both too clear and not clear enough, the sunlight and the shadows too bright and too dark.

This felt like that.

"Perkele," she said to herself.

Plains of Deluun - winter, four years past

When Coraline had first come through to Cerris, her hair had been different. Darker, rougher. She didn't know when it had changed, only that when she finally got a proper bath and looked in a mirror months later, it had turned almost white, bleached, perhaps, by the sun.

She had come out in wilderness, utterly alone, by a small creek with leafless trees lining the banks, and a light frost glittering on the edges of everything around, even her coat. Her bag had fallen nearby, and her staff, carried about in waiting purely for this, was gleaming in the dry brown grass. There were no signs of civilisation in any direction, only grassland beyond the creek itself, hills and grass and the bones of trees, and some low mountains in the far distance.

So she simply started walking, deciding that downstream was as good a place to go as any, with no idea where she was going, how she would survive, or what she would do for food, but simply going for the sake of going. Staying put would have accomplished nothing.

Night fell all too quickly, and she camped with fire and little else. The remains of some crackers. Some creek water she'd melted and tried to boil in her water bottle. A nagging pit of hunger that would not be sated.

Sparks rose and joined the stars when they came out, but she recognised none, so she gave the constellations names of her own, The Blob, Mr. Scruffy, Thing That Looks Almost Like The Pleiades But Isn't. But they were all wrong.

The fire hissed and cackled, whispering in the back of her mind.

And that was when the terror set in.

Hadrin - winter, four years past

After two months walking through the various wilderness, 'alone' was something Coraline had gotten quite used to. She'd figured out the staff, discovered it was a weapon, and this had kept her alive. She'd developed rituals for her days, practicing her aim, shouting into the wind, stopping to draw, to write, to read, and this had kept her sane. But still she was alone. She had no purpose, no direction, nothing, just a vague promise to live, and a vague hope that out there, somewhere, if she just kept going, would be something. Anything.

And then something had shown up in the form of a small shrine poking out of the forest growth, so old and decrepit it had looked like nothing more than a piece of cliff, blocks of stone tumbled down from high above. But then she'd seen the order behind it. The care with which the stones had been cut and placed. The opening that could be nothing else but a doorway.

The voice emanating out of it.

"Come closer," it said. "Come inside." The tones were rough, uneven, and there was something utterly unnatural about the voice, like from a poorly calibrated speaker system.

"Why should I?" she asked it uncertainly. "What... you should show yourself, first. Come out."

"I can't come out," the voice said. "I have been trapped here for what feels like an eternity, and there has been no one, nothing, to sate my boredom. But you, now you're here. I can offer you so much, for so little."

"Well, what are you, then?" Coraline asked.

It laughed, strange and rolling, but the joy and the mirth behind it seemed oddly sincere. "I am a god, little wanderer, trapped in place and time. Alone."

"In a... little building?" she asked, trying to peer inside without actually getting too close. It just looked dark, though, and smelled of forest.

"Left alone and forgotten when the old ones left the world," it said. "Just a voice in the wind, with none to hear. But you can take me. You can return me to the world, return me to those who could hear me, see me, know me. I will go unheard no longer, for together we will be more powerful than anything!"

"Really?" Coraline asked. "And why would I want that?"

"Just imagine the power, all yours," it said. "Just come inside."

Coraline sat down on the ground in front of the entrance instead, pulling off her backpack. "You seem to be oddly obsessed with power," she said. "Why is that?"

"All desire power," it said. "And I have it! I just cannot use it."

Coraline finally found her torch and shone it inside, illuminating the far walls, dirty ground, bits of rock and dirt, a pile of leaves. Some animal bones. Some sort of worn down statue. "Is that you?" she asked, shining the beam on the statue.

"Yesss," the voice breathed. "I am Maracor, Spirit of Decay."

Coraline raised an eyebrow at the state of the shrine. "Appropriate," she said.

"Take my statue, and I will be with you always, my power yours," Maracor said. The dried leaves inside swirled about, drifting out of the shrine across the forest floor.

Coraline plucked one out of the air as it drifted past, and spun it about in her fingers, and said, "And what if I don't want your power, Maracor, Spirit of Decay?"

"ARGH!" Maracor screamed, and a large gust blew out with it, full of rotting stink and leaves and flies, reaching for Coraline, full of rage and fear and a horrible feeling of death.

She jumped away, scurrying back into the woods away from the shrine, but the wind dissipated almost immediately, the feeling of death fading with it.

"Hah!" she yelled triumphantly back at it. "You don't have any power! You can just stay there!"

It screamed after her again as she resumed her path, and then she was alone once more.

Alone with the whispers in the leaves, the voices in the wind's singing, the murmurings in the river's flow.

Alone with the screams piercing the night as the flames of her campfire cackled and spit.

Alone with the shapes flickering and dancing in the shadows of the day.

Winged Victory galley - summer, three years past

Coraline didn't really know where the ship was headed, let alone where she specifically was headed overall. She'd simply needed to be out of there, away from Telegrin, to comply with the one imperative that had kept her alive so far - to keep moving - and so she'd taken the first job she could get on a ship leaving port. It had wound up being a cook's position on the Winged Victory. They'd made a small fuss about her being a woman and a slightly bigger fuss about her not really having any relevant experience, but they were also on a tight schedule and she made a convincing argument.[2]

And now here she was, manning the kitchen, or whatever they called it, chasing away rats, cooking up giant pots of various quasi-edibles, rationing food supplies with maths she had never thought she would actually use.

For their part, the folks who had hired her were quite impressed.

Coraline just hoped they would make it to wherever it was they had said they were going, and if anything did go wrong, her maths would cover it.

She was peeling some dried meat when a man burst into the kitchen.

"Uh... you're not supposed to be here," Coraline said, and waggled her rather large knife at him. She didn't recognise him, which was a little odd; most of the men had taken considerable effort to cozy up to her.[3]

"Please, help me!" the man said. "Quickly, you need to hide me!"

"Uh..." Coraline said, not quite understanding. She did? Why? What?

He stared at her insistently a moment longer, and then jumped past, scrambling about, trying the cupboards, opening up the storage.

"Hey!" Coraline yelled indignantly and jumped at him with the knife, blocking his passage before he could mess up the entire kitchen.

He stopped, uncertainly, eyeing her and the knife.

The door burst open and several of the crew rushed in, grabbing the guy, restraining him even as he fought back.

"It's all right," one of them told Coraline. "You're safe now."

"The hell is going on?" Coraline asked as they left, hauling the still-struggling man away.

"Stowaway, ma'am," one of them said. "He didn't hurt you, did he?"

Coraline shook her head. Not her. Her shelves, on the other hand...


Later, the crew bound the man, stabbed him, and tossed him overboard. He screamed, all the while, for mercy.

"Oh," Coraline whispered.

Soravian hills - summer, two years past

The giant was hard to miss. It wasn't just the fact that it towered over the countryside, easily a few dozen metres tall. It wasn't the sheer overwhelming loudness of the bloodcurdling yells or the very ground itself shaking as it stomped about. It wasn't even the terrified farmers fleeing in every direction at its passage.

The particularly hard thing to miss about it was the smell. It was a putrid, sickening smell that rolled off in waves like horrible giant babies, and continued to roll at distance, over the rolling hills, past the various trees, even across the late spring breeze.

Coraline hadn't exactly been hurrying up to this point, but now she almost stopped, covering her nose and staring, trying not to breathe. She was reasonably sure giants, even the ones with the worst hygiene ever, were not supposed to smell this bad. "The buckets?" she said to herself, watching it in the distance. Was it sick with something?

There still wasn't any sign of the adventurers she'd sent out after it, meaning unless they'd gotten lost along the way - something she wasn't about to discount as a possibility at this stage - they were probably about at the giant by now. This was a little worrisome, since the reason she'd gone after them at all was because ten minutes after they'd left she'd actually read the bounty description and realised there was basically no way they were actually up to the task.[4]

Staff in hand, she broke into a bit of a jog.


The adventurers were at the giant. More specifically, the giant was at a silo, poking it repeatedly with a giant stick that looked suspiciously like the better half of an uprooted tree, and the adventurers were nearby, trying and failing to get its attention.

There were four of them, altogether. One was throwing fireballs, to little effect. Two had bows out and were sticking the thing with arrows, to similarly little effect. The fourth was hanging a little bit back, starting to look a bit worried.

Two of them seemed to be yelling. "Oy, pea-brain!" one said.

"Over here, fuckface," another yelled.

Coraline, still a good ways away, stopped to watch in the shadow of a line of trees at the edge of a field of some sort of grain crop.

The ineffective yelling and projectiles went on for a bit. The giant was looking a bit singed and prickly on a side.

It continued to poke the silo.

Coraline aimed her staff at the giant, looking down its length, wondering if it would even shoot that far, and if it could, how the distance or breeze or whatever might affect its trajectory. She also wondered what it was the staff was even shooting - potential energy? Blasts of plasma? Pure magic? Something even weirder? Even now all she really knew was that it, well, shot. Variably.

A bit later, the mage with the fireballs had managed to set the giant's head and shoulders on fire, and it was getting particularly frantic in its pokings.

Then the silo fell over.

One of the adventurers put his bow away and ran at the giant with his sword drawn, his head angling further upwards the closer he got. Then, a few metres away, when he was looking almost straight up, he suddenly thought better of it and turned around and ran away instead.

Coraline snorted with amusement.

The other three adventurers were starting to back away as well.

The giant finally looked down, noticed the lot of them, and stomped on the nearest one. Another fled, and it started after that one, while the other two started casting.

Realising the group really didn't seem to have anything on the giant and were apparently all about to be smashed by really stinky feet, Coraline started running toward them, firing the staff when she had line of sight. Mostly she missed. A few blasts hit, but didn't seem to phase the thing any more than the fireballs had.

Lightning struck the giant just as it crashed past the casters, sending one flying with a swipe from its tree-stick.

Still running, Coraline upped the force of the staff, and the next blast that hit the giant punched a large hole through its torso. Several others sailed vaguely into the wispy clouds, punching holes in those instead.

The giant, even despite the hole, kept going a few more thundering strides in the direction of the still fleeing other one.

Coraline was reasonably close now. Realising the giant was about to fall right on top of the guy, she yelled, gesturing wildly, "Left! Left! Go left!"

For some reason the guy turned right, instead, but this did the trick regardless and he managed to narrowly avoid the giant as it thudded to the ground behind him. He didn't avoid the resulting shockwave, but though it knocked him over almost immediately, he was already getting up, turning around to stare at the huge mound of putrid flesh, as Coraline came to a panting halt behind him.

For a moment she just stood there, trying to catch her breath.

The guy didn't even seem to notice her. "Did we... is it... dead?" he asked.

"Is this what you people do?" Coraline said incredulously, though the effect was slightly ruined by her stopping for breath three times in the middle of the sentence. "Run into things with no actual plan and get yourselves killed?" Again, she stopped for breath several times in the middle of the sentence.

"Er," the guy said, turning around. "What?"

"You..." Coraline began, then just held up a finger for him to wait while she resumed trying catch her breath. Then she gave up and just lay down on the ground, instead, really wishing she'd bothered, at any point in her entire life, to actually get into a shape that was not 'lump'.[5]

"Wait, aren't you... weren't you the innkeeper?" the guy said.

From the ground, Coraline flashed him a weak thumbs up. "Captain Obvious, is it?" she said.

"Um... what, how..." he began, then asked, "How did it... you didn't... did you?"

"Oh, you were captain of the speech team, too," she said sarcastically. "Great."

The guy just stood there, confused.

"Dude, check your friends," Coraline said, and then continued to lie there, before muttering to herself, "Hyvinvointini on vaakalaudalla."

She finally pulled herself off the ground again when the screams started, for once not voices in her head, but real, audible voices, bouncing off the objects of the world and echoing back even more horribly than they went out. She grabbed her staff on the way up, using it for the final push, and almost didn't even succeed. She felt like a pile of limp noodles, she was so utterly exhausted. How was she so exhausted? She hadn't even gone that far.

She looked back at where she'd come from and realised it actually had been pretty far, and over a small hill, and at a dead run the entire way.

Then she looked at the giant and realised just how very big it was in person and took an involuntary step backwards, almost falling over again.

"Voi paska," she said, and wobbled in the direction of another scream - very coincidentally the same direction as the casters and the guy who'd been running away.

The screaming one was bleeding from several bones not being entirely on the right side of his skin, and overall a lot of his body just didn't seem to be quite the right shape. Running guy was squatting over him, waving his hands ineffectively and apologising, clearly with no idea what to actually do.

Coraline went to the other one, who appeared to be unconscious, first, largely because, due to being unconscious, this one was being a lot less annoying. Putting a hand on his forehead, unconscious guy seemed to be mostly fine, just something a bit out of balance with his head. Logic side of her brain said this was probably a concussion, but she had a quick go at smoothing it back into balance with her magic feels before getting up and trudging even further away from screaming guy, toward the other one, the one who had been stomped on. Even though stomped guy had been wearing rather heavy plate armour, she rather expected him to just be dead, but dead was easier to deal with than screaming.

As it turned out, stomped guy wasn't dead at all. Instead he was half-buried in the ground with a huge dent in his breastplate where it had practically folded in half.

"Hey," he gasped at her as she approached. "A little help?"

"Well, huh," Coraline said, plopping down next to him. "So armour works."

"Yeah," he said, still sounding quite shallow. He seemed to be having trouble breathing.

Coraline frowned and had a go at figuring out how to get the breastplate off properly, then just gave up and sawed through the leather straps with her knife instead. As soon as it came off, stomped guy tried to gasp for deep breaths of air, but then he made a pained squeak and started wheezing instead, blood oozing out of a large gash under where the dent had been.

"Er," Coraline said, and quickly healed the gash, and, as it turned out, a perforated lung underneath.

Immediately stomped guy started breathing normally.

"You're going to have to dig yourself out," Coraline told him as she pulled herself up again. The voices were getting a little louder again, but they still had nothing on her physical exhaustion.

"I can do that," stomped guy said. "Thank you."

Finally she dragged herself back toward screaming guy.

Screaming guy was still screaming, still horribly broken up, and looking rather smashed. It seemed to mostly just be an arm, some of his torso, and his legs, which explained sort of why he wasn't dead, but given that something about his spine also seemed to be a bit weird, it only sort of explained it.

Running guy looked up at her pleadingly.

Coraline sighed heavily and collapsed back to the ground next to them, put a hand on screaming guy's chest, felt the horrible brokenness inside him, every single piece of it, every bone, tissue, tendon, the nerves severed and twisted, and through it all, so much pain. Behind it all were the voices, strange and distant and alien, but another, too, closer, lost, confused, pleading for escape, for an end, something, anything.

"Oh, shut up," she said.

Somehow both voice and screaming did, almost as one.

"You," she added, addressing running guy, "put his bones back so they're in the right shapes." Technically she didn't think that was actually needed, but it seemed like it might help. Or, if nothing else, it might finally knock screaming guy out completely due to overwhelming pain. Or something.

Running guy did his best, straightening arm and legs, nudging screaming guy's limbs, and then knocking the spine even more out of whack.

In the meantime, screaming guy started screaming again.

Coraline sighed again and then just had a go at throwing everything all in and fixing the guy outright.

The voices exploded around her in a horrible pandemonium, surrounding her, pulling her away from the world. For a moment, she wasn't really anywhere, simply overwhelmed in voices, screaming and cajoling and whispering madness and horror, and she felt almost as if she were floating even as the barriers of her mind and self dissolved away before the onslaught.

And then suddenly she was somewhere else, standing on that rocky, shadowy plain, under that green, glowing sky that was never quite the same, not quite seeing, not knowing anything at all. This was her, but it wasn't. She didn't know.

The thunder shimmered through the space, and pebbles jangled. There was no silence here, only voices, voices, voices, but here they were so solid and so real that they didn't even matter, and she simply put them aside, focussing instead on the oddly familiar figure before her. A man, small, lost, and slightly transparent.

"I'm sorry," he was saying. "I think I'm lost. Do you know where we are?"

"You're dead," she told him. Her voice was different, stronger than she was used to, older, stranger, and she didn't quite recognise herself saying it. "This is the realm between worlds, between dreaming and waking. But you have a choice. You may go back, right now, or you may continue on."

"I don't know," he said fearfully. "What do I do?"

"Go back, then," she told him. "Have yourself another try."

He frowned, confusion spreading across his insubstantial face, and then suddenly he was gone.

Coraline smiled to herself, except she wasn't Coraline at all, and she watched as the other souls rose around her, passing, always passing, as they had for an eternity, and would continue on for as long as it took...

The strange, strange feeling that had accompanied all of this faded to a half-forgotten memory as she woke up, and then she couldn't place it at all. Her exhaustion was flooding back, the overwhelming power of the voices filling her consciousness, the sun beating down on her skin with surprising, even excessive, warmth.

"Hey, hey," someone was saying, "Are you all right? What happened?"

"Booze," Coraline said weakly.

"Er, what?" the guy said. This was running guy.

"Give me booze," Coraline said.

There seemed to be some confusion at this, and then someone, apparently unconscious guy, handed her a small flask. She popped the top and took a few swigs of what turned out to be surprisingly good whiskey, and lay back in the fuzzy warmth as the voices faded into the periphery.

Amraeve - winter, three years past

Coraline had needed information, and finally, after coming to Soravia and hitting the first real library she'd seen on this whole book-forsaken planet, she had found something. She'd kind of had to steal it as part of what had turned out to be a surprisingly convoluted library heist, of course, but as far as she could tell, it had worked.

Coraline's plan had basically boiled down to 'wing it'. She hadn't really known what she was after, she hadn't had any concrete reason why they should give it to her once her research had boiled it down to a single, highly-restricted candidate that had just happened to reside in this library, and she certainly hadn't actually expected the mask to work, but here she was, leaving the library, wearing a pair of sunglasses with an overly ornate aluminium mask wired to them, holding a book of stories. It was titled The Heresies of Kyrule, and it was full of secrets.

The problem was, now there seemed to be a bit of an angry mob outside.

Coraline glared at the mob. They filled the street, carrying torches and swords and crossbows, and, as far as she could tell, no pitchforks.[6]

There was a guy riling them up just in front of her, taking advantage of the height added by the stairs up to the library doors, but his back was turned and he apparently hadn't heard her come out.

"And the dogs think to take our lands?!" he was yelling. "Coming and going with their secretive ways and their dark texts! We must put fire to their darkness..."

As the crowd yelled enthusiastically, something clicked in Coraline's head.

Fire.

This was a library.

Immediately she stomped up, and, with all her strength, clobbered the guy over the head with the book. It was a heavy tome, bound in what seemed to be wood, and it made a very satisfying CLUD on impact.

"Hmph," she said as he crumpled before her.

The crowd, a few hundred strong, a random mix of peasants, soldiers, and guards, went eerily silent.

"I dunno who the hells you lot think you are," Coraline yelled at them, "but you are not touching this library."

There was some laughter from the crowd, then someone said, "You gonna stop us, little lady?" A few cries of "Yeah!" and "How you gonna do that?" echoed after. Someone threw a bottle, and a few others threw rocks. A couple started advancing with weapons, though they did so slowly, threateningly, as though trying to simply drive her back more than anything else at this point.

Coraline just yelled, "Watch me!" and pulled her staff over her head with her spare hand, nearly knocking off her sunglasses in the process. Then she thudded the bottom of the staff against the ground and fired a single large burst into the sky, which unfolded into the shape of a giant, brilliant phoenix hanging overhead, throwing golden light down on everything in sight, casting dark shadows on everything else.

In light of this, the crowd, appropriately awed, stopped being so threatening. A lot of the folks even backed up a bit in fear.

After a long moment, it faded away, leaving only a few trickles of smoke and a strange blue afterimage in its place.

"Now you listen here," Coraline yelled at them. "This is a library, not some dark place of evil. Libraries are the most important thing a society can build, because libraries are how you remember what has already been done, and how you learn from it and do better in the future. It's how you pass on what you know to your children, and your children's children!"

The crowd mumbled apologetically.

"If you destroy a library," Coraline went on, "you might as well be cutting out your own tongues. It's not dark evil you'd be burning, but your own history, your own voices!"

Someone threw a bottle at her.

Coraline growled, and then, pointing her staff in the direction the bottle had come from, started screaming in Cthulhu tongue.[7]

At this point most of the crowd fled in terror, not even waiting to see the results.

She trailed off, looking at the remaining folks irritably. They seemed largely to be a single cluster of a few dozen soldiers, with a few other random stragglers scattered around the street. Lacking any goats, or even goat skulls, she was basically out of the normal things to do to head them off.[8]

Then something large, white, and feathery fluttered down next to her, almost, but not entirely, unlike a giant cowled bird, sort of humanoid, orcan-sized, with six massive wings outstretched. Coraline felt the breeze as one of the wings positioned itself behind her.

"You have heard the messenger," the thing intoned in a voice like singing winter. "Go, and bring no harm to this place."

Coraline, meanwhile, tried to look like this was all perfectly normal and that she had totally planned this and everything. Obviously. She was a librarian, after all. They had arsenals.

The random stragglers needed no more convincing, but the group of soldiers hesitated uncertainly. A couple seemed to be arguing with each other.

"Leave," the thing said again, but this time the command was full of power, compelling them to do so, giving no room for dissent.

They fled.

When the last was out of sight, Coraline turned on the bird thing and demanded, "The crap are you supposed to be?"

It folded its wings and turned, ever so slightly, to regard her from under its hood. "I am an angel, in the service of Kyrule."

"Oh," Coraline said. Er. Perkele?

"You have done well, messenger," the angel went on. "You could have allowed events to unfold, however here we stand."

"I am a librarian!" she said indignantly. "I will not stand idly by when any collection is threatened, not when I have the power to do something about it!"

"And you need not stand alone."

"Oh, really?" Coraline responded, starting to get a bit genuinely angry, getting right in the angel's face, or as near as she could when the thing was almost a metre taller than her. "I've stood alone with everything else so far. When the voices came, I was alone, when the darkness came, I was alone, when I lost even myself, still, I was alone. Hunters and priests have tried to kill me, and the only friends, the only help I've ever gotten, came from madmen and bartenders and people who didn't know what I was, but they never had any answers, either, just... nothing!"

The angel stared down at her with what seemed to be entirely too many eyes, but Coraline was just getting started.

"I've been running for almost two years," she went on, "resorting to nothing more than stinky vodka and chance and half-baked plans to achieve anything, and while it may have worked so far, it won't keep working. If I don't get somewhere, this will all catch up and you will have yourselves another outbreak, and there will be no coming back from this, no isolate towns, no remote villages, but major urban centres, trade routes, and before you know it, a whole world up in smoke!" At some point she'd reverted to Finnish, but she didn't even care.

"That's what I've got hanging on my shoulders, all of that, and yet only now you come, when I'm impersonating a bloody messenger? Fuck you," she said, pulling off the mask. "Fuck you with a cactus."

And then she just turned and left.

Kalona temple - winter, four years past

Coraline entered the temple slowly, shining her torch and staff ahead of her and peering inside before entering entirely.

Nothing moved. The space was still, all still, a shine of dust illuminated by colourful windows and torchlight alike. In it were shapes, forms not quite right. Shapes she couldn't see, of pews, lined up and proper. Shape of an altar up front. Shape of a statue behind it, bathed in light, drawing the eye away from the death. A female figure, solitary, one arm forward and one arm back, a look of joy on her face. She didn't fit.

Coraline walked slowly down the aisle, shining her torch into the gloom, but passing the faces by. The statue was the important thing.

Again, movement drew Coraline's eye. A woman by the altar, stepping out of the shadows curiously, confused. The woman's clothes were dirty and torn, but from her attire, she seemed to be some sort of priestess. She didn't fit.

The woman said, "You... you're alive. What are you doing here?"

Coraline hesitated, and stopped in the aisle, still a couple of metres away. "I... I don't know. What happened here? Is everyone...?" She trailed off. The words felt odd, as though they were the wrong ones, as lost as she was. As lost as this whole place was. And there were so many questions, and yet she didn't even know enough to ask.

"Dead?" The priestess finished, grinning. A moment later the grin was gone.

"What?" Coraline said.

The priestess gestured for Coraline to come closer. "Come," she sighed weakly. "It's too late. Where do you come from, the outliers?"

Coraline shook her head. "Further off. Everything's just smoke, ashes, there..."

"So it is. The lands have fallen," the priestess said. "It's the world's end, and nobody will remember. Just the end."

"What happened?" Coraline asked again.

The priestess ignored her and looked away into the gloom. Coraline watched her carefully. The place was warm and dark and there was something wrong, horribly wrong, but she couldn't quite place it.

A moment later, Coraline was standing behind the altar, over the priestess' body, panting for breath, knife in hand. There was blood everywhere. So much blood.

And then the voices were there, really there, loud enough to hear, rising around her, whispering, taunting, cajoling, screaming in her mind, a roar of echoes rising into a cacophony. Her skull felt as though it might explode, and amidst the solid roar she was losing herself, everything she was and had, before blackness finally pulled her into its welcome embrace, not even waking.

Aeries - spring, three years past

They kept taking her for a wizard. Coraline had finally gotten to a town with people, real, normal people, humans and elves alike, and they kept taking her for a wizard.

For the most part, it was pretty neat. There was a general sense of wonder and curiosity everywhere she went, kids kept following her around asking her to make their siblings disappear and prying for stories, and to her face, the folks were all quite polite. There were a few things, though. Slammed doors as she went by. Parents trying to keep their kids away from her. A bit of fear, underneath everything else, as Coraline got supplies and cleaned out her bag and generally asked a whole lot of questions of her own.

She wound up in the local inn at the end of it, but here, at least, all the attention was elsewhere when she came in. Something going on in the corner, with a bit of a crowd of folks gathered around, complete with periodic booing and cheering.

Curious, Coraline went over to check it out as well, pushing her way through the crowd, only to find the focus to be two men across a table from each other with a deck of cards. One appeared to be a local, the other not so much - he wearing relatively fancy, though tattered, clothes in a style that looked almost greek. But it was his eyes that stood out the most. They were golden and mirrored, even stranger than any she'd seen on the elves so far, or indeed on anything living.

The local placed a card face-down in front of the outsider with the eyes, who turned it over. A duck. It even said 'a duck' in large, oddly shifting, letters at the bottom, just in case the image was unclear.

The crowd booed. Coraline looked around at them in confusion, but nobody paid her any mind.

The outsider took the deck, shuffled it, and placed a card in front of the local, who likewise turned it over. A frog in a dress.

Coraline raised an eyebrow.

The crowd nodded a bit at this.

A few more rounds went on, with some impossibly coloured seasons, a traveller, and a dead end that seemed to be nothing more than an enormous mass of tentacles, amidst varied responses and a fair bit of murmurring. Coraline was starting to lose interest, and moved to push her way back out of the crowd, when everything suddenly went horribly silent.

The card on the table was Death. It was a Grim Reaper, though masked like the skull on her coin, complete with bony grin and tattered robes and vicious scythe, and the label said simply 'Death'.

"Death," someone helpfully whispered near Coraline. She nodded sarcastically as they waited for a response from the table.

"Good," the outsider with the eyes said finally. It seemed the card had been dealt to him.

"No," the dealer said. "That's not good."

The crowd was shuffling now, clearly uneasy about something.

"Why not?" Coraline asked, pushing forward entirely and picking up the card. The dealer flinched away, but the outsider just turned his strange gaze on her, staring at, and almost, it seemed, even through her. "The Death card needn't necessarily mean 'death' at all," Coraline went on, "simply change and possibility, a transition from one state to another. The end of how things were, but a new beginning, of how things may and shall yet be."

Everyone just sort of stared at her.

"But that's just one interpretation, of course..." she added quickly. Or so she hoped; she had no idea what this game was supposed to be.

"Death is death," the dealer said.

"We who were living are now dying, with a little patience?" Coraline suggested.[9]

"Yes," the outsider said, staring at the card in Coraline's hands.

"No," someone else in the audience said, much more forcefully.

"Oh." Coraline looked around. "So... what, then?" she asked, losing all her momentum.

A rather wild-haired man pushed his way through the crowd. He was dressed in similar, though less tattered, garb to the other outsider at the table. "You know what?" he said, hauling his companion out of his seat, "We were just leaving."

"No, I don't think so," the dealer said, also rising.

"No?" the man said warningly.

Coraline pulled her staff over her shoulder.

The dealer shook his head, giving the outsider with the eyes a long look. "No," he repeated, reaching for something in his pocket. "This man is condemned. Whatever his crime, we should see the sentence through."

Without even thinking, Coraline hit him over the head with her staff. It just seemed the thing to do.

The guy slid to the floor.

There was an alarmingly long pause, full of even more deathly silence.

A moment later, the crowd had exploded into utter chaos. Fists were flying every which way, brawling breaking out, grabbing and kicking and yelling and screaming. Coraline tried to dodge the bulk of it, to get out of the middle, pushing away at everything nearby and using her staff as a pry bar, but someone elbowed her hard and she nearly got trampled right there. Then someone else grabbed her and started pulling her in another direction, so she tried to hit him, instead.

"Hey! I'm not your enemy!" the guy yelled in her face, and she realised it was the other outsider, and stopped, confused, just clinging to her staff instead. He was attempting to haul his odd-eyed companion out, too, but the other guy wasn't even helping, so Coraline started swinging at everyone in front of them instead.

When they burst out into the sweet cool air behind the inn, the guy turned to Coraline, said, "I'm Costa, this is Merrs, and you should probably come with us."

"Er..." Coraline said.

Merrs stared vaguely off into space.

"Wait here," Costa said, and hurried off toward the stables, leaving Coraline with Merrs.

Coraline stared at him experimentally.

Merrs didn't say anything, instead turning vaguely away. He started as if to head off in what appeared to be a completely random direction, but then Coraline grabbed his sleeve and he stopped.

He looked tired and vacant, but more than that, he just seemed lost. Utterly, hopelessly lost.

Then Costa was leading three horses back, shoving the listless Merrs onto one, and shoving Coraline onto another, and then quickly thrusting her staff back into her hands when she dropped it as a result.

"Um," Coraline said, but then realised she didn't actually have anything to say, and that wherever this led, it couldn't be any worse than where she had been going.[10]

Then Costa jumped into the saddle of the third, and, holding onto the leads of the other two, brought the three horses to a gallop around down a muddy track out.

Coraline wasn't entirely sure how to feel about this, but on the other hand, hey, free horse. Or something along those lines; she wasn't entirely sure how to feel about that, either.

For whatever reason, she still had the Death card.

Telegrin - spring, three years past

It had come on so innocuously in the days after Merrs and Costa had taken the ship south, leaving Coraline back to her own devices.

At first she was fine. The odd whispering, a few murmurs here and there, but still generally out of sight, out of sound, and out of mind.

Then something changed. The voices returned in force. They came as an onslaught, pouring in, beckoning, begging, screaming, asking, crying, shouting, an endless roar of a whisper, the torrent of a thousand waves all crashing at once. And she heard them all so clearly, so plainly, so many, with no black to shelter her, no void to welcome her. There was no escape, no solace from the torment, simply more, and more, and more.

She lost herself in it, lost track of her surroundings, her intent, and everything she was and wanted. There was only room for voices, voices, voices. Speaking out of the shadows, out of loss.


Only blackness, and no silence.


If only there were silence amidst the madness. But there was none; there was only madness and more madness, voices, and no silence.

If there were sound and also silence, a respite, a sanctuary against the sound.

If there were the silence only distance, alone, without the sound, the sound of the voices, thousands, tens of thousands, never stopping, never ending...

But there was no silence.


A shadow stopped her, bright against the black, adding voices to the voices, louder and louder. She needed to move, to flee, to escape the silence. She needed silence amidst the voices, stillness amidst the rock, but there was none, no silence, no stillness, and still, the shadow would not move.

"This is a mugging," the shadow said, a voice with words lost amidst the words, so many words, so many fragments, all pieces, bits and empty pieces. She didn't understand. She tried to tell them she didn't understand, that she couldn't, that this wasn't, but she didn't know. All there were were voices, and no knowing, only voices and more voices.

And a shadow.

The shadow was so silent, it needed more, it needed the voices, it needed to be welcomed into the dark, the real dark, the rock, the

The voices told her.

So she ate it, and then there was no more shadow, no more bright, no more silence.


She knew nothing. She was no-one. The wind. A whisper and a shadow.

The world was not real.

Others passed her by, but they paid no heed. They were not real, and nor was she. Only the voices stood out, in their shout and their roar and their reverberation against the shadowy, flimsy backdrop of the world she saw with eyes that were not there. It was nothing.

Only the rock and the shadow, the sky washed by the whirl of voices, so many souls that passed through, so many voices, shouting, shouting, always shouting and never heard. They were meaningless, and still they shouted, because they did not know, they could never know, but they were only the cicada, they were only the whisper, and yet they whispered on.

Only voices. No end to the voices, just voices shouting, voices pleading, voices lost without even hope to carry them on, but still echoing even now, for there was no hope here, only nothing, only echoes, always echoes. This was the place of echoes, where echoes were only all. Only echoes. Nelanor. Echoes.

They pleaded, the echoes. They called. They whispered secrets and shouted legends, for it was all they knew, and amongst the echoes there was nothing, only nothing. If only there were something amidst the nothing, no abyss, no great shadow, no deep darkness that loiters below, only something, a shadow of the world, but something, then. Something to support the voices, the echoes, the shadows.

But there was only nothing.


She was in a place. She didn't know how she had gotten there, or what she was doing there, or even, for that matter, much of anything at all, but this was a place. Some of the whispers had mentioned places, but as they whispered on, the places faded.

Everything faded. Everything was lost in the whispers, in the shouting, in the din.

There was a cup in front of her. A singular voice, quieter and yet somehow louder than all of the others, said, "You look like you could use some shalott."

She looked at it. Rock, part of her thought, staring at it, and then, before she knew what she was doing, that part of her drank it. Amidst the voices she didn't really notice. There was nothing to notice.


It was later. It was clearly later.

And there was only silence.

She was Nelanor. Nelanor looked up. "It is what the thunder said," she said.

"Sorry?" the barkeep asked.


She was in a bar. It was clearly a bar, though like none she had ever seen before. There were no taps and no vast assortment of myriad bottles such as marked the bars she knew, but there was the bar itself. It was very clearly a bar, long and wooden and polished, and the barman behind with apron and bottles and barrels, ready to pour whatever, so long as he had it, to whoever, so long as they could pay for it.

Or something along those lines. She wasn't sure what was going on, or how she had gotten here. There was, however, another mug in front of her. Had she already had one? It was hard to say.

So she drank that too.

Temple at Nriya - four years past

"Come on," Sherandris said, leading Coraline up the last few flights of stairs toward the temple proper. "There's someone I want you to meet."

"What's with all these stairs?" she asked. They were already most of the way up the mountain, and the view from here was nothing short of impressive, but it all seemed a bit... excessive. And clichéd.

"Tourists," Sherandris said. "They love this stuff. But there's teleporters too for the lazy ones, of course."

"I'm lazy," Coraline pointed out.

"Ah, but you'd miss all of this," he said, gesturing out at the view. Coraline looked out at it sullenly.

The planet they had come to, it had turned out, was called Nryia. It was the ancient home of the gods of Death, and had been, traditionally, quite dead as well. Sherandris, however, was not traditional, didn't like traditional, and generally turned traditional on its head and proceeded to hurl slabs of meat at it. So he'd spruced the place up. Literally, from the looks of it. There were spruces everywhere.

Now, Nryia was beautiful.

It wasn't just the atmosphere, which was pretty great, or the trees and flowers, which were also pretty great, or the architecture, which was pretty great too, or the people, who, indeed, seemed to be pretty great. It wasn't just the general scenery, either, even though that was pretty great too. It was everything.[11]

Coraline grunted.

Sherandris gave her something of a disappointed look. "I could teleport you from here, if you're really like," he said.

"No, that's all right," she said, and got back to climbing.

"Aiight," Sherandris said, and started humming.


There were some tourists milling around the wide space before the great doors to the temple itself, and Coraline glared at them as she ascended the last few steps. Even aliens made obvious tourists, with the contraptions snapping photos and the clashing clothing styles and the grinning. She hated the grinning most of all, because in her experience it usually preceded them trying to talk to her.

At least none of them were trying to talk to her here.

Sherandris apparently made a much better-looking target, probably due to the fact that, for one, he wasn't glaring at them with all the viciousness of a very angry small dog, and for another, his priest's robes marked him as someone who should probably know a thing or two about the place in the first place. Several folks started crowding around him with questions as Coraline skirted away toward the overlook.

There was a good breeze, and she leaned over the balcony, taking it all in, not really thinking, just enjoying the place. She supposed it was a good place, all things considered. Even if Sherandris had effectively tricked her into coming here.

"Excuse me," someone said behind her.

She turned, finding a tourist holding out a small tablet at her.

"Would you be willing to take our picture for us?" the tourist asked.

"Oh, sure," Coraline said, taking the device. "How do you use it?" she asked, though she hadn't even really looked at it yet.

"Just make sure we're all in frame and hit the dot," the tourist said, and pointed to a rather conspicuous button on the side.

"Oh," Coraline said. That was relatively normal.

She did so, and was just giving the thing back when Sherandris came over, smiling amiably.

"There's two frat guys back there who wanna rig a giant game of beer pong in the temple," he said, gesturing back.

"Yeah?" Coraline said.

"Apparently they may need my help with the balls," he added. "But they can do the beer part themselves."

"How so?" she asked.

"They plan to convert all the water in the fountains and such to Sparky Light," he said, then added, "Beer."

"If they can do that, why do they need your help?" she asked.

"Because they forgot to actually bring the ping pong balls!" Sherandris told her delightedly. "Something about being slightly drunk when they left, and now, being incredibly drunk, they don't really want to try to go back and get them."

"Oh," Coraline said. "I suppose that makes sense."

"Yes," Sherandris agreed. He started heading back in the direction of the two guys in question. "Let's see what happens."


Coraline didn't bother to ask why. She just led the three guys inside, held the door open when one of them walked into it instead of using it correctly, and then forcibly steered him inside while holding it open when he walked into it again even though this time it was still entirely open.

"So the activation for all of this is going to be the words 'beer pong'," Sherandris was saying. He indicated Coraline, and added, "We'll probably want you to actually say it, since my priests are less likely to attack you."

"Er, wouldn't they not attack you?" she asked.

"Well, yes, but Alice might," he said.

"Wait, what?" One of the guys asked.

The other just laughed.

"Don't worry," Sherandris told them. "This'll be great. You ready?"

Coraline gave him a dubious look.

The frat guys got to assembling their contraption. This involved a lot of trying to get the entire two pieces out of their boxes and having considerable trouble in the doing so, despite the boxes, in fact, being quite simple.

Finally, using a large crowbar and some scissors, they managed it, though one of the boxes was pretty shredded at the end of it. Then they shoved the two pieces together.

"Bwahah," one of them said.

"Our crowning moment," the other slurred.

Sherandris nodded, then strolled forward into the temple, addressing everyone present in a loud voice: "People of the worlds, may I present to you..."

Then he gestured for Coraline to come finish.

She scuttled up to him, looked at all the random people uncertainly, realised they were all staring at her, looked at Sherandris uncertainly, and then looked even more uncertain. "Er," she said.

Everyone proceeded to continue to stare at her.

Finally, she said, quietly, "Beer pong?"

"Louder," Sherandris prompted.

"Beer pong!" Coraline yelled, and it echoed throughout the great hall, bouncing off the pillars, mingling with the beams of light, and suddenly there were ping pong balls bouncing everywhere, and the stench of cheap beer, and, behind them, laughter.

Then Sherandris was laughing too, throwing his head back with the sheer mad joy of it all.

As everything devolved into utter chaos, Coraline suddenly found herself frozen, unable to move, or think, or speak. There was only a vast coldness, an emptiness, a darkness spreading through her mind, and in it... it was huge, and meaningless. Something. She saw it and felt it and heard it, but she couldn't understand, couldn't make out any of the parts, for it wasn't anything at all, just this vast dark shape, speaking words too big, too grand, too many to understand, all lost in a torrent of inaccessible meaning.

And then suddenly it was gone, and she was nothing, nothing at all, just lost and empty and alone in the darkness, with only the final string echoing in the void.

You will be my last. You will be the best.


Arms. Strong arms wrapping around her, holding her up, holding her against the void. A voice, low and familiar, drawing her back, home, back into herself. There was comfort. There was sense. There was safety here.

It was later. Everything had settled down, ping pong balls were all over the floor, no longer bouncing about like mad, and the chaos was replaced with just quiet, and simple chatter, and a few kids running around playing in the balls.

"It's all right, you're safe," Sherandris was saying. He was holding her close, whispering in her ear, and she felt herself coming back together, calming, reasoning. It was true. She was safe. She was shaking, and she couldn't stop clinging to his robes, but it was getting better.

"You're all right," he said.

Coraline closed her eyes and let herself go, slipping into the warm, sweet, comforting void, free from the darkness and the horror that had threatened to consume her just a few moments before, free from the pain and the fear.

Free.

Midnight - the Room

Coraline is in a room, sitting on a sofa, sipping a coffee. Everything is black, but not. Sherandris is sitting across from her, looking surprisingly ordinary.

"This wasn't exactly what I meant when I invited you out for coffee, you know," he says.

"Er, what happened?" Coraline asks. It's good coffee, but everything just feels a bit off. The place. The time. The utter lack of light.

"You're dead," Sherandris says.

"Oh," Coraline says. Well, then.

"A surprisingy normal reaction when the Dark Sister is involved," he says. "Though I suppose the truly surprising part is that in your case there was still a soul left to catch. Even for sorenai you would have remarkable strength, and yet you are not even awakened."

Coraline watches him blankly. She has no idea what he's talking about, but it doesn't even matter. Nothing seems to matter. Here, there is just coffee and him and time, all the time in the worlds.

"Why coffee?" she asks.

"I call this the Room," he says, indicating the space. "Everything in it is based on you, so it's always a different room for each person. I guess you like coffee."

"Dark Sister," she whispers. The voice is still there, lingering in her mind, dark, terrible, full of things she cannot comprehend.

"Yes," Sherandris says. "That's what we call her. To others, she is the spirit of the universe, the avatar of the void, the purity of nothing, but to the gods of death, she is our sister. She created us, and in so doing she made us hers." He smiles humourlessly.

"She doesn't speak to other gods," he goes on. "Not anymore. They couldn't take it, and she wouldn't have anything to say to them anyway. But you... not a god at all, and yet she spoke to you." He's watching her intently, his chin in his hands. "What did she say?"

"You can't see it?" Coraline asks. "But I'm dead."

He nods slowly, not really confirming or denying.

She still feels the voice, but here, in the dead calm, the whelming unimportance of the Room, the strangeness and complexity of the voice feels even more alien, and at the same time, the voice feels almost at home. She still cannot understand, but it doesn't matter, it just is. A hugeness, almost, but not quite kept at bay. Meaning that she cannot see. Words that she cannot follow.

"She said I would be her last," Coraline says finally. "Her best."

Sherandris closes his eyes, bowing his head in sorrow. "I am so sorry," he says.

Coraline watches him vacantly, not understanding this any more than she had the voice itself.

"Let's wake you up," he says later.

Temple at Nriya - four years past

Coraline found herself back in the deathgod's physical embrace, back in the world, suddenly very much alive again, with all the cares and confusion and noise of everything all flooding back. It was slightly overwhelming, and she tried to burrow into his chest away from it.

"Hey," Sherandris said. "You all right?"

"Yeah, sorry," she said, and hastily disentangled herself from his robes, turning away in embarrassment. She still felt something heavy, looming in the back of her mind, and shook her head trying to clear it.

Sherandris watched her carefully for a moment, then abruptly turned to find a short portly elven woman staring up at him in such a way as she actually appeared to be staring down at him.

"Ah, Alice," he said. "I did not do this."

"Really," she said in a tone that clearly indicated that she did not believe him.

"Really," he said. "Contrarywise, it was her." He gestured toward Coraline. "This is Coraline. Coraline, Alice."

"Hi," Coraline said.

"Hmph," Alice said.

"I feel like I'm seriously missing something here," Coraline said.

Alice gave her a suspicious look, then said in a suddenly much more amiable tone, "We all are, love. We all are. Let's get you some tea."

As Alice led her back toward the temple's sanctum, Coraline still felt the voice, lingering, in the back of her mind.

Statue in Abaeranoth

CORALINE
Hi statue. Do you speak?
STATUE
I do indeed. Welcome, wayfarer. What's on your mind?
CORALINE
Er...
I guess there was just another such statue where I used to live and I wanted something familiar. And less awkwardness. Definitely less awkwardness.
STATUE
Difficult morning?
CORALINE
Morning, evenings, afternoons... you get stabbed, you nearly overdose yourself on antipsychotics and then don't come down days, you find out you've gone and joined some cult and now there's a serial killer after you, you wind up with a whole lot of priests looking at you funny and you tell them you need the damn whiskey or you'll lose it and maybe kill them all, they all start yelling, and things only really go downhill from there...
There's only so much a girl can take before she just sort of snaps, you know?
Blargh.
STATUE
And now you come to the house of another god, seeking solace.
CORALINE
What can I say, your lot have never come across as all that overbearing. Or tried to kill me. Or complained about the drinking. Or... well, okay, I've probably run into a bit of a weird selection, and half of them being inanimate objects maybe helped in a few ways too...
She sits down next to the statue and looks around.
CORALINE
Do most folks not talk to the statuary here?
STATUE
Statues are large, and people are busy. But really it's what they fear that prevents them.
CORALINE
Oh?
STATUE
To be overheard. Or to speak, perhaps, to the God himself...
CORALINE
What's wrong with that? For a god, Azorres seems like a right decent bloke.
STATUE
For a god?
CORALINE
(she coughs)
Let's just say I haven't exactly found the majority of gods to be... worth respect.
There's a long pause.
STATUE
Perhaps.
They discuss other things. The nature of fear. The passage of time. The Exodus, when all the elves fled the world, and the humans came. How so much changes, and so little. The languages and peoples. Birds.

Five minutes into a rant about geese,

> They make the most annoying sounds. EVER. And they're so loud! SO. LOUD!






AZORRES
Your path will not get easier. You will know only pain, and sorrow, and loss, and ultimately you will fail.
CORALINE
I don't want to hear that.
AZORRES
And what would you hear? The name of one mortal on the lips of so many, fighting against the impossible...
Nelanor.
CORALINE
(shaking her head)
But that's... she's not mortal. She's not... she's...
AZORRES
You.
You are split, Nelanor, two halves, mortal and immortal, each where they need to be. Survive, and you will find yourself.
But here, you are mortal, and if you are not careful, you will die.
CORALINE
And you think I don't know that? I know what's at stake! I mean, I don't know, but I know there's...
(she trails off)
More. Than. Er.

To give up a name

Deathdealers were an odd exchange. They gave up their names to serve, and in return they received enhanced strength and speed and will. But Coraline couldn't give up her name. The ones people knew were small and held little power, and the name that was her was too big for any of this. It was not a mortal name, and yet the entire point was supposed to be that these were mortal names.

But there was one, now wasn't there?

"I am the Librarian," Coraline said. "I offer up my name, Karoliina Hämäläinen, for the god to keep." The one name she never used. the one her parents had so lovingly chosen,[12] the one she had guarded so carefully.

Trial thing: darkness

Everything goes dark, upside down. Coraline cannot see, cannot hear, only the voices now getting through.
She's still sitting. She's still at the table.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agata. What just happened?
AGATA
(mind voice)
You've been attacked.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Damn. That's what I was afraid of. Is my attacker now doing anything?
AGATA
(mind voice)
He's just sitting there.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Weird. What's he waiting for?
AGATA
(mind voice)
You?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Well what the crap am I supposed to do? I can't see or hear anything! It's even knocked out my usual dark sense thing. Seeing. You know.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You could flip the table.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I... that is the worst idea I have heard yet.
(pause)
...would I hit anyone?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Just Nevin. Noone important.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Hmmm...
Coraline draws her hands back slowly, finding her palms, wrapping her fingers around the table's edge.
She waits, listening, feeling the vibrations in the room around her, bouncing off her bones. Chatter, conversation, chairs scraping, dishes rattling. Footsteps, growing closer, passing by.
Something reverberates through the table.
Coraline jumps up, flipping the table with all her strength, and then ducks away in a random direction.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Directions! Where do I go?
Coraline runs off very slowly, bumbling into random things and people.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Left. Other left!
Forward. No, right, turn, chair!
There's a guy.
Coraline manages to avoid the guy, but not much else. She feels his presense, vibrations as he passes, making out his outline, and others, too. Objects in space, suspended, moving, fuzzy.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I can see. I thought I couldn't, but... I can.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Keep going
Left. Chair. Okay.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Okay?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Door.
Coraline runs into the door.
AGATA
(mind voice; conversationally)
You can see on different levels. At the barest, you have eyes. Take away what your eyes perceive, you have space. Take away your sense of space, well, you still see the souls...
I wonder what you would see underneath those.
Agata gives Coraline a strange mental push.
Coraline hears the voice of the Dark Sister in her head, an unsummoned memory, unintelligible garble too huge to understand, drowning out everything else. Only the last string stands out, echoing in her mind:
DARK SISTER
You will be my last. You will be the best.
Coraline comes to a moment later, still standing there as if nothing has changed.
Agata jumps on her head.
CORALINE
Agh, cat!
She cannot hear herself speak the words.
In front of her is a figure, glowing, vibrant, huge, standing out against the strangeness around her. Behind her is another, dimmer, but sharp and clear, unlike the other fuzzy outlines throughout the room.
AGATA
(mind voice)
That was interesting. Has that happened before?
Someone grabs Coraline from behind, pinning her arms, and the spell ends. Suddenly Coraline can see again, and properly feel, and hear.
She struggles, then goes completely limp and elbows the someone as hard as she can as soon as he relaxes.
Agata nearly falls off her head, but digs in with claws.
The someone turns out to be Nevin.
NEVIN
Hey, hey. It's all right.
Coraline glares at him, then turns around and glares at the other guy: Hanron.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
He was glowing.
(she gestures toward him)
What are you?
HANRON
What an interesting question.
CORALINE
You're not like the other folks here. You don't... feel like they do.
Hanron gives her a curious look, but then lowers his voice and leans close.
HANRON
(quietly)
When you are through here, we should speak. There are matters to discuss.
Hanron turns and leaves.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Careful. Mortals don't see by feel.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I'm mortal.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I'm rather beginning to doubt that.
NEVIN
He is the High Priest. Next time, perhaps you should remove that cat from your head before you address him.
CORALINE
He's important somehow. Different. You both are.
NEVIN
(shaking his head)
Of all the things to ask, why that?
CORALINE
I remembered something. It's not important. What were you trying to test with that? Who would my allies have been?
NEVIN
What?
CORALINE
That's not the right question either, is it?
NEVIN
How did you know this was one of the Trials?
CORALINE
What was it supposed to test?
NEVIN
Unchecked, the darkeness would devour you. You had to fight it, to do something. Not give in.
Coraline gives him a confused look.
AGATA
(mind voice)
It wasn't devouring you.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
No-oo...
AGATA
(mind voice)
Ask?
CORALINE
It... devours people?
NEVIN
You fail, should you collapse. But you threw a table instead.
CORALINE
You have totally lost me. Seriously?
AGATA
(mind voice)
And it might be death magic. You appear to be completely immune.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Then why did anything happen at all? It sounds like it mostly worked.
NEVIN
You passed. Now please, take that cat off your head. It's disrespectful.
CORALINE
It's okay. Head cats isn't contagious. I won't spread it to all the other children.
(she leans forward conspirationally)
It's not like I've got head pigeons.
Nevin sighs, shakes his head, and leaves.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You did throw the table, you know.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
...oops?
AGATA
(mind voice)
It was impressive. In a completely overreacting and trying to hit someone with a refrigerator sort of way.
Coraline notices the whole commissary is staring at her, and hastily leaves as well.

Keeper call

HANRON
I have need of a Keeper of the Stories.
CORALINE
Oh?
HANRON
You can imagine my surprise when it was your name that came up.
Coraline doesn't really respond, but Hanron watches her expectantly.
CORALINE
(finally)
That's sort of the point, isn't it?
HANRON
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
How familiar are you with the situation in Soravia?
CORALINE
Er... Not very? It's kind of depressing.
HANRON
I fear we may have added wood to the fire. Two Deathdealers were sent, and yet we have not heard back from either in months.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
You'd think Deathdealers would be able to take care of themselves.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You know one. Didn't you both get thrown out in an alley passed out drunk the first time you met?
Coraline remembers she's supposed to be having a conversation with Hanron and tries to look considering.
HANRON
What do the stories say? How does this end?
Coraline stares at him.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What?
AGATA
(mind voice)
He expects you to know. Interesting.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Should I? I mean, it's just stories, not magical know it all futuring.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Witches know that. This guy may not.
CORALINE
(shaking her head slowly)
It doesn't work like that. You can't know how it all turns out just based on stories; all they can do is inform you and guide you on what's likely, or possible.
Hanron frowns.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Help.
Agata purrs in Coraline's lap.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Just tell him about that quantum stuff.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
So the world's full of all this stuff that only sort of half exists, but also exists in multiple forms all at once. I can't tell you shit because I've only got bits of it, and they're all wrong.
Perkele.
She scratches Agata behind the ears.
CORALINE
You fear what you cannot see, what you do not know. And you should.
But you want answers that are not there. You seek closure to something that remains open, so you ask others to give it to you, when you know full well nothing's changed. But I'll give you permission regardless, tell you, don't worry about it. You have other things on your plate, so focus on those. It's all right because you tried, is that what you want to hear?
Hanron starts to shake his head, then stops, looking at Coraline.
CORALINE
And it is all right, you know. Not because you tried, but just because. Soravia will all blow over eventually, Vardaman will be fine, Nurunn will get back with his news soon enough, and he'll tell you... he'll probably tell you it didn't go as expected. Proper experiments usually don't.
Hanron nods.
AGATA
(mind voice)
So you do know things. Things you never saw, that nobody ever told you.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I do?
AGATA
(mind voice)
How did you know his name was Nurunn?
HANRON
Thank you. I... I needed that.
CORALINE
And if something does happen, something goes wrong, worry about it when it happens. Right now, you have more immediate problems you need to worry about. So do. Focus on those.
HANRON
Yes. I understand.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I find it incredibly disturbing how this guy seems to be taking me seriously.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You're his prophet.
Coraline just stops and stares at Agata.
Agata purrs.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
That's not funny.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Really? I find it hilarious.

Fear

CORALINE
It's fear. It can be your greatest ally, sometimes your only ally. Listen to it. When you are alone, when all else has abandoned you, fear can be your guide, your council. Listen, but not blindly. It can get you out of the most impossible of situations.
TIM
I read it's just water.
CORALINE
Careful. Books are written by writers, and writers detach themselves from their fear.

Trials - ancient

INT. Warrens chambers
Coraline and Nell come in onto a large balcony overlooking the chamber. Several others are also on the balcony, watching, as well as a couple of guards, one holding a bow. The guards seem a bit uncertain about the entire thing.
Directly below is an entry area with a few other other men huddled together. One of them is Timms, who seems to be directing Larson.
In the main area, Larson is standing alone, about halfway through, the floor cracked and broken around his feet.
At the far end is a door. An inscription reads over it, 'To falter is to fall. The path begins.'
LARSON
Are you sure? I could try to...
TIMMS
No, stay put!
The floor rumbles quietly. Cracks spread further from the broken floor.
Coraline goes over to the guards.
CORALINE
You, give me your bow.
The guard does, looking relieved.
CORALINE
What can you tell me?
GUARD
Got here about ten minutes ago. Not much has changed. Floor's more broken up.
Coraline takes the quiver, too, and draws down the bow, sighting what all she could hit.
CORALINE
Your assignment?
GUARD
He just said watch the kid, take him out if anything goes wrong.
CORALINE
'Wrong' is pretty vague.
GUARD
Yes, ma'am.
CORALINE
(nodding at the guards)
You can go. I'll take it from here.
GUARD
Yes ma'am.
OTHER GUARD
Thank you, ma'am.
The guards leave, possibly a little too hastily.
Coraline and Nell take their places, now with an unobstructed view of the chamber below.
NELL
That was impressive.
CORALINE
They clearly didn't want to be here, and I'm not sure I'd trust them to make the right call regardless.
NELL
But you just took charge, and they let you!
CORALINE
You would be surprised how far you can get if you just seem to know what you're doing, especially if nobody else does. People just default to following the leader and let you do whatever.
NELL
What if other people do, though? Know what they're doing.
CORALINE
Well, yeah, that's when it all quits working.
The men below finish conferring.
TIMMS
Okay, Larson. When I give you the word, take a step back toward us. Do you understand? When I give the word.
LARSON
(nodding fearfully)
Yeah, I... I guess.
TIMMS
(toward the balcony)
You ready up there?
Larson glances up at them and well, and looks a bit surprised to see Coraline there.
CORALINE
(leaning over the edge)
We got this.
TIMMS
Coraline?
CORALINE
The guards seemed skittish, so I took over.
TIMMS
That may be fore the best.
Larson. Now.
Larson takes a tentative step, and the whole room shakes, rumbling. The floor heaves around him, breaking into huge chunks, and he sinks in a bit, nearly falling over.
CORALINE
Stop, stop!
Larson flails for balance, and then looks at her, panicked.
CORALINE
Turn around. Try going the other way.
LARSON
But if this happened when I went...
Another shake nearly knocks him off his feet again, and he sinks deeper. This may be the only thing holding him up at all at this point.
CORALINE
Turn around! You're supposed to go forward, not back.
Larson gets knocked down entirely before he can do anything else, and the floor begins to swallow him.
CORALINE
Voi paska!
Coraline drops the arrow in her hand and vaults over the railing, landing badly on the broken ground just beyond the entry area. She falls, twisting her ankle, possibly worse, but gets up quickly before the ground can try to swallow her too, and run-hobbles to Larson, bow still in hand. It gets harder the further she goes, the ground resisting more and more.
She gets to Larson and pulls him up out of the rubble, and then half-pushes him, half uses him as a crutch to get to the far door as they fight their way through the increasingly rubbling floor.
Coraline puts her hand with the bow and quiver to the door, touching it with her fingers.
CORALINE
'To falter is to fall.'
Immediately the room stops shaking, settling down. The floor stops trying to eat them, and its rubble turns to sand and trickles back into position, and Coraline and Larson are pushed back up to the suddenly very solid surface.
The door opens ponderously.
TIMMS
Coraline! Well done. Are you all right?
CORALINE
We're fine. But we should keep going - it really won't want us to go back now.
LARSON
What?
TIMMS
Not a good idea. It may be risky coming back now, but the danger will only increase should you keep going.
CORALINE
I'm reasonably sure I can get us through. Look, I've read about this, and the inscriptions will help. Overall, with two of us, this should be the safest approach.
TIMMS
Are you absolutely sure about this?
CORALINE
Of course not, but I'm as sure as I can be. There isn't a lot of information about the Warrens in general, let along specific chambers, but they tended to follow a lot of patterns when they built this stuff.
Timms looks back to the other men and some nodding and stuff happens.
TIMMS
Very well. Keepers guide you.
NELL
(from the balcony)
Coraline!
Just... be careful, will you?
CORALINE
I'm always careful!
Coraline and Larson exchange looks, and advance into the next room.
The door closes behind them with a small boom, leaving them in darkness.
CORALINE
You know, I think it might be a little dark in here.
LARSON
I can't see a thing. Can you?
CORALINE
Certainly not very well.
(she closes her eyes)
And I'm definitely not seeing it with eyes.
The room is a large open area, about the same size as the previous. This one has a solitary pedestal in the centre, shaped not unlike the elven obelisks still scattered about the lands. Twelve braziers ring the room, set against the walls.
Coraline takes a step forward, and the braziers poof into flame, the orange glow filling the room.
The inscription over the next door reads, 'Friends may be unexpected, but all allies have value.'
Shadows flicker in the walls, not entirely in sync with the flames.
Coraline heads over toward the pedestal, and Larson follows, decidedly not touching anything.
LARSON
You really think this is safer than going back?
CORALINE
Definitely. The chamber would have killed us had we turned back a trial in.
LARSON
What?! Why didn't you say so?
CORALINE
Because these are the old Trials of the Deathdealer. I don't think Timms would have taken that too well.
LARSON
The elven ones? They're supposed to be even harder than the modern version! You don't seriously think we can survive!
CORALINE
We'll be fine. We've had training. Also I cheat.
Larson stares at her, so Coraline pats him on the shoulder in what she hopes is an encouraging fashion and points back toward the door they came in through, reading the inscription over it.
CORALINE
'We have the will.' Come on. This one looks pretty straight forward.
LARSON
You can read that?
CORALINE
Yeah, I know a few languages. One of the Ordian dialects is surprisingly similar.
(she indicated the next door)
This one reads, 'Unexpected friends can be valuable allies.' Loosely translated.
LARSON
And that's something to do with the obelisk.
CORALINE
That would be my guess.
Larson gives her an enquiring look, and Coraline shrugs. He places a hand on the obelisk.
The flames in the braziers get taller, brighter, the flickering more pronounced, throwing sharper shadows.
The shadows in the walls step out and drift toward the two humans.
Coraline draws an arrow, aiming uncertainly at some of the shadows.
Larson readies a spell.
LARSON
Coraline?
CORALINE
(lowering the bow)
Wraiths?
(dead voice)
Hi wraiths.
The wraiths startle, looking surprised and then confused (somehow), and then all start talking at once.
WRAITH 1
You speak! You speak like dead!
WRAITH 2
It has been so long. So long trapped in here, alone, and nobody would come. They promised clarity, but clarity brings madness in solitude.
WRAITH 3
At last, someone real.
WRAITH 4
Who are you? Are you ours?
WRAITH 5
Beef.
Larson shrieks, dropping the spell, falling to the floor, clutching his head.
CORALINE
Guys, please, one at a time, please.
The chatter dies down.
CORALINE
My companion cannot hear you as I can. You know what our voices do.
The wraiths bow their heads in apology, and then start again, this time one at a time.
Larson calms down a bit, but this clearly still pains him.
WRAITH 3
She said 'our'.
WRAITH 2
Will you free us? It has been so long.
WRAITH 6
She's a witch.
CORALINE
Yes. Are you the friends the trial speaks of?
WRAITH 3
We are.
CORALINE
Then please, will you aid us?
WRAITH 4
Of course.
WRAITH 3
Of course!
WRAITH 6
Always.
The wraiths drift away, each one heading over to a brazier, covering it in shadows. The numbers are perfect, and the flames, one by one, go out.
As the darkness settles once more, a whisper fades with it.
WRAITH 2
Freedom!
The door ahead opens ponderously, letting in a soft white glow.
Larson gets up slowly.
CORALINE
Er... sorry about that. You okay?
LARSON
Yeah, I... I think so. What was that?
CORALINE
Wraithspeak. Dead speech? They... it doesn't exactly have the best effect on most people.
LARSON
But you... they were our allies?
CORALINE
Yup.
They continue on into the next room, and again, the door closes behind them. The inscription from this side reads, 'You think before you act.'
LARSON
But they're undead. How did you do that?
CORALINE
Perhaps the undead are not all bad. Deathdealers must make these choices.
LARSON
But how? I couldn't understand them. I couldn't even... stand!
Larson looks at Coraline worriedly.
CORALINE
You will. It's not just what you bring in that makes a Deathdealer.
This room is completely empty. The inscription over the next door is particularly confusing.
CORALINE
(reading)
'And now a word from our sponsors'?
That... can't be right.
LARSON
Which means?
CORALINE
It's... an advertisement? Did the elves do that? Unless it's just a translation error, but that's never happened before...
(mind voice)
Agata!
There's no response from the cat, just a sensation of purring.
CORALINE
And of course my cat's asleep.
LARSON
What?
The room goes dark, and then the scene appears, all around them, wreathed in light: a grassy field, verdant and warm. Fluffy sheep creatures grazing and ambling. In the distance, rolling hills, woods, and sea. Music rises around them.
Larson puts his hand through the grass, and it goes right through it.
LARSON
An illusion?
CORALINE
Hologram...
ANNOUNCER
(in some sort of elvish)
The moonstone fields. The heart of our civilisation. The ultimate expression of freedom and prosperity.
The view shifts, now zooming over the fields, and Larson takes a step back and stands next to Coraline.
A curling road comes into view, elegantly laid into the ground, with sloping curbs and intricate patterns built into the surface, and now they zoom over that.
Coraline sits down heavily, seemingly on air.
ANNOUNCER
The meandering path, the dream of all free elves.
LARSON
What's he saying?
Coraline shakes her head.
A vehicle, some sort of open-topped hovercraft, zooms down the road, and the view places them inside it.
CORALINE
Perkele. It's a car ad.
ANNOUNCER
Now, the future is here. Ekkle Ramos is proud to bring you a new generation of transport. With speed and the feel of power, let us show you across the land in style, bringing back memories of old when all was new.
CORALINE
Seriously?
They go through some more scenes and scenery and whooshing around corners, and the announcer goes on at length about how great and futurey Ekkle Ramos is, and how they need to be sure to visit the dealership in Abearanoth.
Coraline pulls out a bottle of shalott and chugs some in the middle of it.
ANNOUNCER
It's right in your backyard, so visit us today!
Ekkle Ramos. Heralding a shifting world.
The scene (now all mountainous and snowy), fades into darkness, and the room returns to its empty norm.
The door ahead opens lazily.
Coraline gets up and yawns.
Larson is still standing there, looking very, very confused.
LARSON
That was... very strange.
CORALINE
Lucky you. Now imagine if these things were everywhere.
Larson gives her a confused look.
CORALINE
People on all sides trying to sell you things, anything, all the time. Even when you're in your own home, continually bombarded by ads, in the morning paper, written on trees, even the sky above.
You learn to ignore it, but sometimes they get really annoying. Like this. This was annoying.
LARSON
But... why?
CORALINE
Because it works?
And I guess they had to have someone build all this, and they had to get the money somewhere, so maybe... Ekkle Ramos sponsored it? So they got an ad space as a result.
LARSON
What?
CORALINE
...let's just... go.
She waggles a hand at the next door.
Larson shrugs, and they head into the next room. The inscription on this side says only, 'Thank you!'.
The door ahead of them is almost completely buried in a pile of skulls. The inscription above it reads, 'The greatest strength belies the simplest solutions.'
In front of the door, and the pile, is a statue of a kneeling knight of some sort.
CORALINE
Great strength leads to simple solutions.
They look around. Coraline picks up a skull. Larson pokes the statue.
Coraline comes around and looks at the statue as well.
CORALINE
Hi statue.
It doesn't respond.
CORALINE
I got nothing.
LARSON
Maybe we need something complicated.
CORALINE
Not simple?
Larson takes the skull out of Coraline's hand and places it into a slight hollow on the statue. The whole statue is covered in slight hollows. It sticks in place.
Coraline goes around and starts passing Larson more skulls, and he places those as well, locking into the statue and each other.
They keep this up until the entire statue is covered.
They step back to look at it.
CORALINE
Well, that's not gruesome at all.
LARSON
Death claims all.
CORALINE
So what do we do now?
LARSON
I'm not sure.
Larson draws his sword and kneels, replicating the knight's pose in front of it.
The statue rumbles, then stretches and rises like a bulbous skull horror.
Coraline jumps back and shoots it, but the arrow just sticks in a skull.
Larson holds his position until it swings at him, and rises and blocks, parrying it away. He blocks another blow, and slashes back, scraping on the stone, but this does knock off a few skulls.
CORALINE
Keep doing that. Maybe we just need to get them off again?
Larson gives her a confused look.
CORALINE
I don't know! Don't look at me like I should know!
Coraline shoots it a few more times, but mostly these arrows just stick too, only knocking off one skull.
Larson keeps at it, knocking off skulls, fending off attacks, and the more skulls he removes, the slower the statue gets.
Coraline knocks the last skull off with her fist.
The statue sinks back into a kneel and goes still.
The door ahead opens ponderously.
Larson breathes a tired sigh of relief.
Coraline gives the statue a worried look and scoots around it, trying not to step on skulls.
Larson steps on several, not even trying, and nearly falls over a few times until Coraline gives him a hand.
They continue on.
The next room contains a large, low pool, with a wide rim set a bit out of the ground. The water is completely still, and does not ripple at their approach.
The inscription behind them reads, 'Your wisdom guides you.' The inscription ahead, 'Regret is a knife that burns, solace a withering flame.
Coraline reads it off, translating.
LARSON
Any ideas?
CORALINE
Do you have any regrets?
LARSON
None.
CORALINE
Good. But keep your head. Remain in the moment.
Or something. I think this should be the last chamber, at least.
LARSON
Oh, thank the gods.
Coraline sits down by the edge of the pool, leaning over the rim.
Larson stands a bit back, keeping watch.
Coraline taps the water, and a ripple spreads outward from her fingertips, smaller ripples trailing after. They bounce off the edges of the pool and cross, forming patterns. And the room ripples too, fading.
Something clonks to the ground behind Coraline, and then it's gone.
<DREAM>
INT. Warrens chambers
Coraline awakens suddenly, still draped over the edge of the pool. The room is very much as it had been before.
Larson is sitting nearby, but he gets up and comes over up when she sits up as well.
LARSON
Thought I'd lost you.
CORALINE
I think you did. I think I failed this one, honestly. But then... I don't know if it was real or if my mind just conjured it up, but then an old friend was there, and I guess he helped me out...
Larson helps her up.
LARSON
Friends are good to have.
Coraline gives him a grateful look.
AGATA
(mind voice; irritably)
Nragh, what?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Oh, don't mind me. I'm just dying in some ancient trials down here.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Eh?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Never you mind. Go back to sleep, cat.
The door ahead opens slowly, silently, as they approach.
LARSON
So we're done. We've passed?
They pass through.
The space they come out into is much larger than the chambers they'd come through, almost like a cathedral. Colourful glass lights up much of the higher walls, giving way to elaborate arches higher up, obscuring the ceiling itself. Ahead of them, before a great statue of a four-armed skeleton in a blank mask, is a dais, and flowing out of two of the statue's hands is a small stream, which breaks around the dais and joins again on the other side, continuing on down the middle of the floor to about the centre of the room, where it disappears into the stone.
The doorway behind them reads only, 'You know who you are.'
A hologram flickers into shape above the dais, larger than life, but still very dwarfed by the statue. It's the Voice of Kyrule.
Coraline and Larson head over toward the dais.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Welcome, seekers. I am the Voice of Kyrule, and you come now before me having passed the Trials of the Deathdealer, though not, I understand, entirely intentionally.
CORALINE
I was drunk and not thinking and he just plain can't read ancient. And what, for the love of all things shiny, was the deal with that advertisement? Do people have no shame? Is this Finland?
LARSON
You were drunk?
CORALINE
I'm always drunk. Don't tell anyone. That's my secret.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Usually potentials would be able to merely skip through that, but nobody had configured the trials when you entered.
LARSON
And you're... the Voice?
CORALINE
One Voice to speak for all. A thousand Voices to speak as one. His words are those of the God. Our words can only be fragments.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You have proven yourselves according to the ancient trials, and have earned the right to give your names as Deathdealers, if you so chose.
CORALINE
And if we don't?
VOICE OF KYRULE
You may walk out of here as you are, and if you still wish to pursue this path, continue your trials as normal.
LARSON
I say we do it. This is why we're here, and we've come this far, haven't we?
Coraline eyes Larson curiously, and then nods slowly.
LARSON
So what do we do, then? Give up our names? And that's it? We're Deathdealers?
CORALINE
There is one more thing. We give our names to the Eternal to keep... and then we drink from the river of Death.
LARSON
Oh...
VOICE OF KYRULE
Your judgement will be passed in this world. How you serve will be decided here.
Larson nods slowly.
CORALINE
I am the Librarian. I offer up my name, Karoliina Hämäläinen, for the god to keep.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are witnessed, Karoliina Hämäläinen, and your name is taken.
LARSON
I... er, I offer up my name, Larson Terrance, for the god to keep.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are witnessed, Larson Terrance. The worlds will know you as Larson only, for your name is taken.
Larson swallows, and looks at Coraline.
Coraline kneels next to the stream and cups her hands in the not quite water, draws some up to her lips, and drinks.
Larson does the same.
Everything goes dark.

EXT. Midnight
Coraline is sitting on nothing, alone, at peace, without pain. She is glowing, wearing the blue dress. There is something she is missing, here. Something she should know.
Kyrule appears before her, watching, shrouded and dark, but against the darkness of the space, infinitely bright.
KYRULE
This place. Is it yours?
CORALINE
No.
KYRULE
She called it Midnight.
CORALINE
It's been called a lot of things.
KYRULE
It's not real.
CORALINE
No.
KYRULE
But it is.
CORALINE
It's home.
KYRULE
You can't stay.
CORALINE
I know.
KYRULE
You need to wake up.
CORALINE
(sadly)
I know.
KYRULE
You don't need to be afraid. Not here. Never here.
Suddenly Coraline is standing, hugging him.
Kyrule hesitates, then embraces her in turn.
KYRULE
It's all right. You're safe. I will protect you, my dreamer.
CORALINE
(smiling)
No, my sweetling. I will protect you.

INT. Warrens chambers
Coraline awakens exactly as she was, looking slightly toward Larson, her hands still cupped to her mouth, the water barely passing her lips. She lowers her hands.
Larson collapses.
Coraline scuttles over to him and shakes him, but she can already sense he's dead.
CORALINE
Larson?
(she looks up to the Voice)
No, he was... he was good at this.
VOICE OF KYRULE
He failed the final test, and will serve in death as he cannot in life.
Coraline stares at the hologram of the Voice looking distinctly unhappy.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You don't approve.
CORALINE
(quietly)
Octopus.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are a Deathdealer now, the sword arm of the Eternal, most favoured of all his Guardians in the mortal realms. You knew what you risked, and you accepted the price.
As did Larson.
CORALINE
Fine, you're right. Doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. But now what? What do I tell them?
(she looks uncertainly at Larson's body)
What do I do?
VOICE OF KYRULE
All doors here are open to you. Take your friend, tell the others what you must, but be wary. You are still a Keeper, and you must keep yourself unknown.
CORALINE
But I can't tell them any of this, then. How could I explain how I knew... any of it? They don't even use the old trials anymore. The water at the end it just a metaphor; it's their faith that makes it real. They wouldn't believe me, and if they did, they'd just ask questions...
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are the Apostate. You will find a way.
CORALINE
Right. With my mighty arsenal of librariany wiles. Cthulhu fhtagn. Tentacular doom.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are witnessed, as always.
The hologram flickers out.
Coraline grumbles to herself, picks up Larson's body, and clomps out.

Deathdealer aftermath

Coraline picks up Larson's body and carries him back the way they came. Now the doors simply open before her, letting her through without issue, nothing activating as she passes.
Timms, Nell, and two others are waiting in the area before the first trial when Coraline comes back out.
NELL
Cor!
I worried.
CORALINE
So did I.
NELL
And?
CORALINE
Larson's dead.
Coraline reaches them and passes Larson's body over to one of the other guys, who sets him down on the ground.
TIMMS
What happened?
CORALINE
These were the old Trials of the Deathdealer. We passed. We... reached the end.
We were greeted by the Voice. He told us we had earned the right to face the waters, if we so chose. That even though we hadn't completed our training, that only made it more impressive we'd gotten there.
I told Larson it was a bad idea, that we hadn't completed our training, and that if we had managed to get through these trials it'd be easy to do so again once we were actually ready, but...
TIMMS
He drank. Kyrule has taken his soul.
CORALINE
I should have stopped him. Pressed the point how dangerous it was.
TIMMS
Perhaps.
It was ultimately his choice. The choice we all make, in the end.
NELL
What about you?
CORALINE
I didn't think it was a good idea.
TIMMS
But did you give your name and drink?
CORALINE
Yes.
Timms sighs.
TIMMS
I wouldn't normally ask this, but can you prove it?
Coraline leans up, getting up on her toes, and cups a hand over Timms' ear.
CORALINE
(whispering)
Karoliina Hämäläinen. As I give my name as proof, know it to be true.
Coraline backs down again, and Timms nods.
TIMMS
All right, get some rest. Both of you, you shouldn't even be up at this hour.
We'll take care of Larson.
NELL
Put up a sign. You don't want more people wandering in here.

INT. Halls - night
On the way back:
NELL
So... you're a Deathdealer?
CORALINE
Technically, I guess? I don't know what the temple's going to make of this. Didn't exactly go through the proper channels.
NELL
Oh, Cor, Kyrule is always the proper channels. I wouldn't worry about that.
Can pick me up? Carry me to bed! Be all strong and mighty!
CORALINE
Agh, what? How lazy are you?
NELL
Are you all strong now or not? Come on, show us the goods!
Coraline grumps and picks up Nell disturbingly effortlessly.
Nell giggles wildly.

Ritual

INT. Some office or something
Timms is there. Coraline shows up too.
TIMMS
Close the door.
Coraline does.
TIMMS
You're a Deathdealer now. Do you understand what this means?
CORALINE
Er... sort of.
TIMMS
Tell me.
CORALINE
An exchange. Name for a life. We give ourselves over entirely, and we get...
TIMMS
You get nothing. Nothing more than the Eternal allows. You are the sword, His will upon the world. You must go where He commands, and act as He would act.
CORALINE
I can still choose.
TIMMS
You already have. You weren't ready, but you chose regardless.
Why become a Deathdealer? You're no warrior. You hide from your problems, and guard only yourself. Deathdealers are the opposite, going into danger, risking death at every passing.
CORALINE
I know that, but... it was just useful to know what you lot were, and then things just kept going...
You're right. This was dumb. I shouldn't have... I gamed it.
I needed an advantage.
We got to the end, and Larson made up his mind, and regardless of what happened, I knew Kyrule would not take my life. I'm too valuable to him here, and in death I give him nothing.
TIMMS
We all serve in death. There is no more value to the living than the dead.
CORALINE
That depends entirely on what kills you. That depends on whether you have a soul left to give.
TIMMS
What are you talking about?
CORALINE
Deathdealers are dead men walking. That's how it works. You give your life, and Kyrule holds your death from you for as long as he sees fit.
But what if I'm already a dead woman walking? What if I have no life to give, and only a death to hold? I was holding it before. Now he is. It's the same thing. He's just more sober than I am.
Timms gives Coraline a long, hard look.
TIMMS
I see.
(gesturing to the floor between them)
Sit.
Coraline does so uncertainly, and Timms sits as well.
TIMMS
Normally we would teach you this well before you take the trials, but you need to know it nonetheless.
It is said that a Deathdealer has thirteen names to give. This refers to our ability to take back our names and our oaths to the Eternal so they cannot be used against us.
CORALINE
Right, we got into the background. Enemies who use soul magic to tap into our... connection with the Eternal's power.
TIMMS
We are going to sever that connection now.
CORALINE
Eh?
TIMMS
Thirteen times you can use this ritual, and thirteen times you can reverse it, with the proper offerings.
CORALINE
And what exactly does it do?
TIMMS
You will keep your base strength, and your skill. You will not be able to cast, or perhaps use some of your other senses, depending on what you are accustomed to.
And others will be unable to take advantage of it.
CORALINE
I... see.
TIMMS
Clear your mind. Know your name. Remember what you have given.
Coraline stares at Timms.
TIMMS
Speak your name, Deathdealer.
Coraline gives Timms an enquiring look, and he nods.
CORALINE
Karoliina Hämäläinen.
TIMMS
Speak your oath.
CORALINE
Kyrule of Arling Tor, I guard you, now and always.
TIMMS
You break that oath.
Say it.
CORALINE
I break that oath.
TIMMS
You take back your name.
CORALINE
I take back my name.
TIMMS
You stand alone. No gods to back you, no gods to judge.
CORALINE
I stand alone. No gods back me. No gods judge.
...or sit, at any rate.
Timms gives her an unamused look.
CORALINE
Sorry.
TIMMS
Take your knife. Cut your hand. As the blood flows, let it fall to the earth.
Coraline does so, getting out a knife and slashing across her forearm. Blood trickles down her arm and off her hand, falling to the ground.
TIMMS
This blood is your offering, your promise.
Say it.
CORALINE
This blood is my offering, my promise.
As my blood flows freely, I free myself.
As I live, I walk alone. As I may die, I die alone.
The voices clatter into focus, deafeningly loud, as something else entirely fades from her awareness.
Coraline gasps in surprise and gives Timms a curious look.
TIMMS
Good.
CORALINE
Now what?
TIMMS
(getting up)
You will continue as though things were normal. Tell noone about this, that you are a Deathdealer, or have passed your trials.
We will restore your connection in time.
Coraline also gets up, being careful not to get her sleeve covered in blood.
CORALINE
I have magic classes.
TIMMS
Make an excuse.
CORALINE
When? When will we... put me back to normal?
TIMMS
When you are ready.
CORALINE
This was one of the thirteen times?
TIMMS
You will not use them all.
CORALINE
How do you know?
TIMMS
You won't live long enough.

Lesson

INT. Class thing
Coraline slips into the back, sitting down next to Nell. The instructor doesn't seem to notice and continues lecturing.
NELL
(quietly)
Where've you been?
CORALINE
(quietly)
Really fun Deathdealer things.
NELL
(quietly)
So not all fun and games?
CORALINE
(quietly)
We just severed my connection to Kyrule. For reasons.
NELL
(somewhat less quietly)
Reasons?!
Some nearby folks glance over.
CORALINE
(quietly)
For... practice, or something. Though I can't help but feel like he's also just doing this so he can evaluate me without my power. Hold it over me if need be? I don't know how to restore it without him.
I haven't even been here that long and I feel so naked without it.
NELL
(quietly)
Keepers, that's awful. And what happened to your arm?
Nell takes Coraline's arm and pulls off the bandages Coraline wrapped it in, mutters irritably, and heals the slash.
The instructor stops and looks over at them.
INSTRUCTOR
Nell? Are you practicing the lecture?
NELL
Uh...
INSTRUCTOR
Coraline, please demonstrate for us the proper procedure for Tamrin's fourth casting.
Coraline and Nell exchange desperate looks, and then Coraline hastily reads the board and shapes out what the diagram seems to be depicting.
INSTRUCTOR
Cast.
CORALINE
(casting)
Quickly small.
There's a slight burst of energy in front of her, but nothing else happens.
INSTRUCTOR
Good. If you can still get the lecture, you are welcome to get distracted, just as long as you don't bother the people around you.
Are they bothering any of you?
The folks around them shake their heads. One guy shrugs.
The instructor gets back to the lecture.
NELL
(quietly)
Didn't you just tell me you'd severed your connection to Kyrule?
CORALINE
(leaning over quietly)
I'm a witch, remember? Two power sources. I'm just cut off from Kyrule, not my own self.
Which unfortunately makes the ritual probably not really terribly useful for me.
NELL
(quietly)
Yeah, pretty sure Deathdealers aren't supposed to be wizards.
CORALINE
(quietly)
Oops.


At the end of the lecture, the instructor calls Coraline over as she and Nell are leaving.
INSTRUCTOR
Coraline, a moment?
Coraline and Nell go over and stop in front of her.
INSTRUCTOR
I received a rather... interesting note from Master Timms.
NELL
Ooooh, now the shit hits the fan.
The instructor raises an eyebrow at them.
INSTRUCTOR
Timms says you will be unable to cast magic for the time being, and should be excused from classes. Is there something I should be aware of?
CORALINE
Uh....
Coraline tries to come up with an explanation and comes up with absolutely nothing.
INSTRUCTOR
I do note you used magic even in this class.
NELL
She screwed up. It's all a big misunderstanding. She wasn't supposed to be able to do that, but then she forgot she wasn't supposed to and accidentally did it anyway, even though it wasn't possible. Yes.
CORALINE
Uh... yes.
INSTRUCTOR
Either it's possible or it isn't.
NELL
Quick, cast a teleport and flee! It's your only chance!
CORALINE
One, that would probably kill me if I tried, and two, I don't actually know how to do that.
INSTRUCTOR
Proper spellcasting should never harm you.
CORALINE
I have a... condition.
INSTRUCTOR
Yes?
CORALINE
I'm sorry, I can't tell you. I can't channel, but as for why, Timms was very specific that I wasn't to tell anyone.
INSTRUCTOR
And did you channel?
CORALINE
That was wizardry.

Test

INT. Some hallway or some such
Coraline is walking along not really paying attention when someone grabs her from behind and yanks her into a doorway.
CORALINE
Oy!
Something presses on her mind, like the Death of Souls, but different. The voices fall away. The world dissolves into grey. There is only nothing, and grey, and... green, tinting, glowing, pressing through edges that aren't there, and with it, pain unlike anything she's ever felt.
Coraline screams, balling up, fighting against it with everything she has.
Everything turns out to be basically nothing.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names!
Coraline tries to respond, but finds she can't even do that.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names, you have to fight it. Keep your mind.
Remember your mantra. 'My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.'
CORALINE
(mumbling)
My pain belongs...
AGATA
(mind voice)
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
CORALINE
(following along mumblingly)
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
The greyness dissolves, giving way to solid glowing green, exploding around her. There is nothing else left, only the searing, horrible green...
CORALINE AND AGATA
(together; Coraline barely mumbling aloud, Agata whispering in her mind)
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
The voices are all around, now, returning as if from nowhere, clamouring in her mind, but pressing against the force attacking her. The green fades, blackness tinting its heart, leaving Coraline caught in the middle.
Suddenly it just ends. Coraline collapses, but she's still being held up, apparently by Timms.
CORALINE
(whispering)
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
TIMMS
Coraline?
CORALINE
(weakly)
My pain belongs to the Divine...
Timms?
AGATA
(mind voice)
That IMBECILE. I will rend him! Where are you? Where is he? Kill him for me, and when I get there, let us KILL HIM SWEETLY.
TIMMS
(putting Coraline down)
I'm sorry. I had to test you.
CORALINE
My cat is going to kill you.
TIMMS
What?
CORALINE
She'll kill you. We'll...
Coraline passes out.

Hangover

INT. Hospital thing
Coraline wakes up in a bed feeling very hungover, voices roaring in her head.
CORALINE
Ghaaaaah.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I need to move to get my alcohol. I need my alcohol so I can move. I don't even know where it is. I need to find it first.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Need?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Help.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Grow up.
Coraline groans, tries to sit up, and roll-falls out of bed. This just makes everything a hundred times worse.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Go find a healer. You're hungover. That's treatable.

King: No time

KYRULE
Stop.
Coraline pauses and looks back uncertainly.
The Voice is joined now by another cloaked figure: Kyrule. They are almost like mirrors of each other, but not.
CORALINE
Why?
KYRULE
There isn't time.
CORALINE
If it's you, I don't need time. It won't matter anymore.
KYRULE
And if it isn't?
CORALINE
Then... I'll need to check the others. I'll need more time. I'll need... oh.
Coraline just stands there for a moment, and then glances back down at the book.
KYRULE
Do you even understand what you're reading?
CORALINE
Ostensibly no. But part of me does. The part of me that understood... her. It's enough. I... think.
Do you think it'll even work? Will I be able to get away?
KYRULE
That is up to you. You can give yourself a fighting chance.
CORALINE
If I just put the book down and study. Oh, I know that line well.
(she finally manages to force herself to close the book and put it back on the shelf)
Can you get the Boy in Green for me? I think he might be able to help.
KYRULE
Of course.

Trials discussion

The three Deathdealers are seated behind a table like some kind of panel presenting at a room, except they're not saying anything, and the only one else in the room is Coraline, who looks completely unimpressed.
Coraline waits a bit longer to see if they'll say anything. They don't. They just stare at her instead.
Coraline waves at them.
They don't respond.
CORALINE
Hi.
The Deathdealers continue to stare at her.
CORALINE
So unless you summoned me here for a reason, I'm going to leave now.
JACOBY
She passed her trials.
CLEMENS
She doesn't follow the rules.
TIMMS
She is different.
CORALINE
She's standing right here.
CLEMENS
(finally addressing Coraline)
Does this make you uncomfortable?
Coraline gives him a blank look.
CORALINE
Rudeness is pretty embarrassing, yes.
JACOBY
Still snarky, I see.
CORALINE
I told you, my cat is the snarky one.
CLEMENS
There are doubts about you.
CORALINE
Yeah? So?
CLEMENS
You do not take this seriously, but this is very serious. You must give up everything. I do not think you are capable.
CORALINE
What you think and what's the case aren't often exactly similar, are they?
CLEMENS
This can't continue. You are not even fit for those robes!
TIMMS
I wonder if that's what Vardaman's teachers said to him, too. And yet now he is the oldest and most honoured among us.
CLEMENS
She is nothing like him.
TIMMS
No? From where I'm sitting, the resemblance is uncanny.
CORALINE
I'm not sure if I should take that as an insult or a compliment.
TIMMS
You know him, then?
CORALINE
I've met him a few times. For all I know I've boned him.
TIMMS
Boned?
CORALINE
(loudly)
Moving right along.
Look, Clemens, what exactly is your problem with me?
Clemens glares at her disdainfully.
TIMMS
She is unusual, and her humour questionable, but she is capable. She makes her choices, and she chooses well. It is a valid question.
CLEMENS
She's a woman!
Coraline gives him an incredulous look, then bursts out laughing.
Clemens glares at her.
CORALINE
Wait, you're... serious?

Trial: choice

JACOBY
You are weak.
CORALINE
I am the willow. I bend, and hang weepingly over the stagnant pool, mourning the dead swans laying rotting beneath.
Jacoby gives her a mildly horrified look.
CORALINE
Oh, come on. Third worst poetry in the galaxy. You should know this stuff.
JACOBY
(regaining his composure)
That is hardly appropriate.
CORALINE
Or was it second worst? I never could really remember.
JACOBY
Why are you here? Do you really think you have what it takes to be a Deathdealer?
CORALINE
I have the will. Do I need more?
JACOBY
You have no idea. No strength. No power here.
CORALINE
I also have brilliant snark.
JACOBY
Enough! This snark demeans you.
CORALINE
I wasn't referring to mine. I was referring to my cat.
Jacoby swings to strike her, and Coraline dodges and knees at his groin, but then rolls away when he blocks and retaliates, knocking her over.
As Coraline retakes her feet, Jacoby draws his sword.
CORALINE
And just what are you planning to do with that?
JACOBY
This has all gone far enough. It is time for your absolution. Let the sentence be passed.
Coraline backs away.
CORALINE
(starting to get distinctly worried)
Perkele, that's being a bit hasty, don't you think?
JACOBY
No. You present nothing but jokes and falsehoods. Stand down, and this shall be swift.
CORALINE
Yeah, I think I'll pass on that.
Still backing away, Coraline throws a fireball at him.
Jacoby deflects the fireball with his sword, and it sputters out. He leaps at Coraline, swinging.
Coraline blocks with an arm thrown out in front of her, conjuring a small energy shield over it that absorbs most of the force of the blow.
Jacoby holds, pushing harder for a moment, trying to slide the sword, but then backs off and tries another swing around the shield.
Coraline blocks this, too, using her other arm.
CORALINE
I never asked for absolution! What right do you have to choose for me in this life?
Jacoby draws back, readying his sword, filling it with power.
JACOBY
The right of the Deathdealer.
CORALINE
No.
Coraline darts up to him, pushing his sword aside, and puts a hand on his cheek, the stillness ready.
CORALINE
Only the Voices have that right.
Jacoby gives her a curious look, then nods curtly, lowering the sword.
Coraline almost kills him anyway, but then he takes a step back and bows slightly, putting the sword away entirely.
JACOBY
You understand.
CORALINE
Huh?
JACOBY
You have passed your first trial. Remain on your guard, seeker.

Tyrants

CORALINE
So you're the god of death. What exactly does that mean?
SHERANDRIS
(after pausing for a moment, thinking)
Behind the worlds, souls fall like ashes, driftingly. I linger in the black and catch them, passing some back, sending others on.
CORALINE
You judge them.
SHERANDRIS
You could put it that way, I suppose. I wouldn't. It's more that I find their balance and put them where they need to be.
CORALINE
And where is that, exactly?
SHERANDRIS
It varies. Those with unfinished business go back for another chance, as with those who never had one to begin with. Others have business that must never be finished, and above all else are freed from their pasts. Those who are finished, or who are too broken to continue, are let go, put to rest.
CORALINE
It doesn't matter what they've done in life? No hells and crap?
SHERANDRIS
Some gods call for that.
CORALINE
And?
SHERANDRIS
They are tyrants.
(pause)
They use fear to increase their own power at the expense of others, fear and abstract horror. Horror that breeds horror. Horror that stagnates.
CORALINE
You don't like them much, I take it.
SHERANDRIS
Would you want to serve tyrants? Those whose only care is their own gain, who will use you and anyone they can to further that and that alone, with no concern?
CORALINE
But you don't serve them.
...do you?
SHERANDRIS
Not anymore.



ZAERES
Tell me, Denereise. You're an ordained priestess of Kyrule, sword to his service and teachings. You of all people know what he does to those who defy him, and whom he judges to be False. And yet, even knowing what I am, you travel with me willingly. You accept me almost as a friend.
How do you rationalise this?
CORALINE
Why does it matter? You're useful, I'm interesting, we're less dysfunctional than 87% of modern families...
ZAERES
Because, my dear priestess, this is part of the intrigue! Your vows versus your deeds.
CORALINE
You don't even know what vows I've made.
ZAERES
(continuing)
Your god who would send you to the Hells for this.
CORALINE
He is a tyrant.
ZAERES
Your god?
CORALINE
Yes.
Zaeres looks at her curiously, a smile playing on his lips.
CORALINE
Kyrule is a tyrant, and I do not defend that. There is no logic to merit it, no need. He is what he is, for no purpose, and I abhore it.
ZAERES
(delightedly)
You are more right than even you know! We serve the same tyrant, and yet the façade he presents to your worlds is supposed to cover this right up.
CORALINE
He has Hells. How the buckets is any mask supposed to cover that?
ZAERES
Oh, I don't think the implications of the Hells are supposed to quite occur to anyone, my dear. But you're right, of course. It is quite clear. As a Lord of the Hells, I should know, and he is after all the only one I answer to, aside from maybe Mother.
(he sighs lengthily)
The Eternal, the Deathgod. The Tyrant. I do like that. Mother won't.
CORALINE
You're a lord of the Hells?
Why are you a vampire?
ZAERES
The whole family is! The most powerful vampires in the realms. Dreary, really.
CORALINE
Everything's dreary once you have it.
They continue on in silence.

Coraline In my stories, there was often an important point. That there is a lot we don't know, and that what is different is not inherently bad.

You're different. You're undead. And yet undead still die. You grow. You live. Only what you do with this life, no matter the type of life it is, should decide your fate.
ZAERES
(quietly)
A pity you speak heresy.
CORALINE
You may find I speak a lot of heresy.
Not that it'd affect you; you're horrible through and through.
ZAERES
Why, I think you may be my favourite priestess in all the realms.
CORALINE
What, because I'm a heretic?
ZAERES
No, no, no, you're just so interesting! I would slaughter a thousand kingdoms and lay them at your feet, but not because I love you so. Certainly not because you've earned it, or deserve such offerings.
The blood would be quite pretty.
(he eyes Coraline curiously)
Or maybe you are worth that?
CORALINE
Um. What.

Sword

CORALINE
Never used a sword properly. Tried to take up fencing as a kid, but there were too many rules. Too much specificity in the stance. Can't just dance.
Wound up taking ballet instead, which is even scarier. My toes can kill. Mostly they just kill me.

Death follows

CORALINE
I had to. I had to, I'm so sorry.
ZAERES
Is that how it is for you? Everywhere you go, death follows.

Kit et al

Giant shepherd's crook

They're in some shop with a giant shepherd's crook. Nolan is staring at it.
NOLAN
(deadpan voice)
I want it.
SHOPKEEP
Sod off, kid.
NOLAN
I want it. You will sell it.
SHOPKEEP
Oh, I will, will I? You got 25?
NOLAN
I will give you 10. You will sell it to me.
SHOPKEEP
Sod off.
Kit scoots in and tries to steel Nolan out; when this fails he turns to the shopkeep and hands him some money.
KIT
Here's 20.
The shopkeep grumbles and hands Kit the crook. Kit gives to to Nolan, after which he finally stops resisting and allows himself to be steered out.

Strange silvery key

Erry is lying against a tree. Nolan has wandered off for a bit, probably to relieve himself or something, leaving the camp alone.
The angle is odd - we see it a bit as Erry would, everything a bit fuzzy, not quite there, with swirls of shapes and colours drifting in and out of view.
An angel, MYRR, lands beside Erry and stands uncertainly for a moment, then says something unintelligible.
Erry giggles and reaches out to touch the angel; she winds up smacking its leg.
The angel says something important.
Erry stares for a bit and then finally nods vaguely.
ERRY
It'll be done, mun!
The angels hands her something and hovers for a moment more before teleporting away... or possibly just disappearing. Erry hugs the object for a moment before tucking it in the blanket beside her and falling asleep.

LATER:
Nolan comes back to find a peculiar silvery key on Erry's forehead.





Erry holds the key up to the light.
KIT
(matter-of-factly)
So that's the sympbol of the Chosen of Kyrule, who acts as his will upon the worlds.
Erry stares at it for a moment, starting to look more and more freaked out, then throws it into the air and runs away screaming.
Jora catches it and gives Kit an annoyed look, then goes off after Erry.
NOLAN
Er?
KIT
(grinning)
Responsibility. She hates it.
NOLAN
But it's a symbol. It doesn't mean we have to be responsible, just that it's a symbol of something that is.
KIT
It implies responsibility. Someone trusting her with something. A god trusting her with something. Er.
NOLAN
Er.

False front of Erry

JORA
Erry, why do you always act so crazy?
ERRY
I don't! I'm not. Nuh-uh.
JORA
I'm serious. You're eight, but you act like a crazed monkey, bouncing about, and not even forming whole sentences most of the time. But you're not really that stupid, are you?
ERRY
Maybe I want to be a crazed monkey.
JORA
Do you? Do you really think it suits you?
Erry seems to consider this, but says nothing.
JORA
You can read, too. I've seen you. Why don't you ever show it? Or are you planning to take everyone by surprise when they least expect it?
ERRY
(surprised)
You noticed?
JORA
Kit hasn't.
(smiling)
Time it well, my little monkey, and you shall shock the hells right out of him. But don't forget to speak in the meanwhile.
ERRY
But what do I say?
JORA
Doesn't matter. Doesn't even need to be to anyone. Just don't become me, will you?
ERRY
But I'm not you. I'm me.
JORA
(smiling)
Of course you are.

Key investigation

INT. Some temple thing or something.
Nolan has cornered a PRIEST. Jora is lagging a bit behind.
NOLAN
Show me to your sheep.
PRIEST
(trying unsuccessfully to back away)
My child, there are no sheep here...
Jora scoots over to them.
JORA
Actually we were just looking for someone who can identify an object for us.
NOLAN
(still standing uncomfortably close to the priest)
Can you?
PRIEST
What sort of object?
JORA
We're not really sure. That's part of the problem. But it's dangerous, and there were mushrooms involved.
NOLAN
Psychedelic sheep.
PRIEST
(becoming somewhat unnerved)
That's... not a whole lot to go on.
Jora sighs. Nolan just stands there staring at the priest.
JORA
It's a... key. Silvery, about yea big, shaped like the crescent moons, with the figure of a tower going through the middle. We don't really know what it is, or where it came from, but it's powerful, more so than anything we've seen.
NOLAN
Sound like anything?
PRIEST
And what, this... key just fell out of the sky?
JORA
Dunno. Gal who... acquired it was hallucinating. Got some bad mushrooms. Seemed convinced that a giant bird had... she said the bird came out of a wall and gave it to her. There weren't even any walls around. We were in the woods.
NOLAN
She said it was a clock, too.
(he looks at Jora)
Is it a clock?
JORA
I really don't think so.
PRIEST
Um, that's a fascinating story, but I really don't think...
NOLAN
(getting even more uncomfortably close, right in the priest's face)
No, you don't, do you?
JORA
Nolan...
NOLAN
You know what we're talking about. You just think we're playing with you. And maybe we are. Maybe you're just a little toy to us, and I could tweak you like a sheep's balls, but you should still tell me what I want to know, because if you do...
(he grins slowly, drawing it out for maximum effect)
I'll go away.
PRIEST
(quickly)
It's the World's Key. Planets and planes, and through it all, the spire of Death. The key that can open all gates, that can bring the bearer forth into whatever world he desires.
NOLAN
(still grinning)
Yes?
PRIEST
It's the key to all the realms of life and death. It's... it's the symbol of the champion who will walk the realms as the Lord's will upon the world. But it's Kyrule will that determines whose hands it falls into, not...
NOLAN
Really. So if we have it, it's Kyrule's will?
PRIEST
You can't possibly...
NOLAN
(finally backing away)
Keep telling yourself that.

The Queen's Bust

There is an inn. The sign says 'The Queen's Bust', with a picture of a bust of the queen under it.
JORA
Really? Queen's bust? That's the best they could do?
KIT
I don't get it.
JORA
Bust.
Kit looks confused.
JORA
This?
She gestures toward her chest, which Kit glances at before suddenly stopping and staring as though seeing it for the first time.
KIT
Woah. That... you... woah!
JORA
(irritated)
Kit!
ERRY
What's so great about that?
NOLAN
It's a boy thing.
ERRY
Like sheep being a Nolan thing?
NOLAN
Boom.

Jora village thing

Jora strode into the village like she owned the place, her golden hair back in a thick braid, shield on her back, axe on her leg, swords at her side, ice and steel alike. The gleaming white ice weapons Kit had constructed were intermingled with the rest, adding knives and bow and arrows to the mix, grips bound up in leather and twine, holstered like anything. She should look only the warrior now, or so she hoped; as much as she still felt only like the little girl who had fled the raiding of Arvidsjaur so long ago, nobody here needed to see that.

Curious eyes followed her as she stopped in what seemed to be the centre, or near enough, putting a practiced hand on the hilt of the sword she knew well. The folks were watching as they walked from place to place, chattered, worked on their various household things, but for now they didn't stop.

"People of this village," Jora called out. "I am Jora of Arvidsjaur, daughter of Amaris. I would seek whoever leads this place."

A few did stop now,

Zombie argument

Kit and Erry are walking down some road in some town.
ERRY
You don't think it'll work?
KIT
That depends on how you define 'work'.
ERRY
What?
KIT
Look, if you don't mind being dead, I'm sure it'll be a total hit.
ERRY
Well... some people don't.
KIT
Who?
ERRY
You know. Dead people. Zombies. Vampires! You could have an entire market in vampires. And nobody even sells to them. People hate vampires.
KIT
That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.
ERRY?
So all the other dumbest things you've ever heard from me weren't really?
KIT
This takes the cake. It takes it and it turns it inside out.
ERRY
And?
KIT
And there are tentacles inside.
A man, LESTRANGE, hails them.
LESTRANGE
Oy, kids.
Kit and Erry go over toward him.
ERRY
(to Lestrange)
If you were a vampire, would you buy an invisibility suit that took you out of the world into another plane of existence where nobody could see you?
KIT
You left out the best part.
ERRY
Vampires don't need to breathe. They're not ducks, stupid.
KIT
How do you know?
ERRY
Show me a vampire that needs to breathe!
KIT
How about that one in the creepy shack?
ERRY
We don't know it needed to!
KIT
It was choking!
ERRY
We firebombed it! Of course it was choking! It was also hopping around on one foot, so does that mean vampires are necessarily monopedal, too?
LESTRANGE
Um, excuse me...
KIT
Well obviously they're not supposed to be monopedal; that one just lost a foot in the FIREBOMBING, remember?
They have lungs. They breathe.
ERRY
Well, zombies have lungs too. And I'm preeeetty sure those zombies in the lake weren't breathing. On account of BEING IN A LAKE.
KIT
Vampires aren't zombies! You listen to anything Lyra said?
ERRY
FINE. I'll just make an army of invisible zombies. We'll see how you like THAT.
Erry stomps off in a huff.
Lestrange is just staring.
KIT
Uh... I wouldn't worry about her. Where's she even going to get an army of zombies around here anyway?
LESTRANGE
An interesting question. What if she were able to?
KIT
Honestly she'd probably wind up beating the crap out of them with a stick before things got very far. Zombies are not exactly... cooperative, in our experience.
What'd you need?
LESTRANGE
How old are you?
KIT
Old enough. What, you think we're too young to take on the hordes of the undead?
LESTRANGE
I find it amusing that your fantasies would revolve around that, as opposed to more traditional matters.
KIT
Fantasies? Do you see any sheep?
LESTRANGE
I'm looking for a boy about your age, perhaps a little older. A locksmith's apprentice.
KIT
Sorry, wouldn't know. We're just passing through ourselves.
Kit gestures off after Erry, but she's long gone.
LESTRANGE
Your family?
KIT
Of sorts. Look, I suggest finding an actual local and asking them. They know things.
LESTRANGE
Sounds like you do know a few things yourself.
KIT
I'm sure you know things, too. Doesn't make them useful in this exact instant.
LESTRANGE
Where are you from?
KIT
Limn. We're aliens and we've come for your brain juices. My translator is a little iffy sometimes, okay?
(pointing to a random guy)
There. Ask that guy.


KIT
I would suggest you talk to Nolan, aside from the minor detail that I would not suggest anyone talk to Nolan. Because he's Nolan.

Raghuram

Nolan suddenly appears in front of them, holding up the key.
NOLAN
We found out what this is.
KIT
Yeah?
NOLAN
We are the champion of Kyrule.
KIT
I... see. Can you do that teleporty thing again and go find Erry, by any chance? I worry she might be getting eaten by zombies.
Nolan turns the key ever so slightly and vanishes.
Theramon and Raghuram look a bit surprised at this, but only a bit.
THERAMON
(looking vaguely amused)
That is not a thing to joke about.
KIT
Sometimes I worry that there may come a day when I understand what all is going on. But then Nolan throws a weird and I realise that, no, not happening. Not any time soon.
Nolan appears again, this time holding up Erry, who is rather dirty, a bit beat up, and somewhat chomped on. She's not entirely coherent and mumbles a bit.
Nolan drops Erry and she sprawls onto the floor.
KIT
Um. Was that really necessary?
Kit goes and turns Erry onto her back, checking her with a quick magic checking thing.
NOLAN
(staring at Theramon)
No. Should I get rid of the zombies?
Theramon goes to check on Erry as well.
THERAMON
Move.
Kit gets out of the way, and Theramon places a hand on Erry's chest.
KIT
Consider that they might harm sheep.
(to Theramon)
Are you, by any chance, a real healer? Because she's a bit... not well. And if my sister turns into a zombie I feel like Jora may kill me.
THERAMON
(casting)
ikamak bilikua.
Theramon drops a rather powerful heal on Erry, and her wounds immediately close. Her skin tone returns to normal, which it apparently really wasn't before.
Kit winces at the very obvious magic.
Nolan stares off into space, considering.
NOLAN
It is unlikely that they will harm sheep.
KIT
Well, then, nevermind the zombies. Obviously all the important things will be fine. Where is Jora, anyway?
NOLAN
We may have antagonised the temple of Kyrule to sufficient state that they may attempt retribution. She is attempting to convince them that this is not necessary.
KIT
Oh.
NOLAN
She is unlikely to succeed.
Theramon gets up, staring at Nolan, his hand on his sword.
THERAMON
You. I remember you.
NOLAN
I remember you, too. Theramon sa Tgomi.
THERAMON
(recoiling)
How...
Nolan just stares at him blankly.
KIT
What?
RAGHURAM
(grinning)
Wow. You people are real?
KIT
Stars, sometimes I wish we weren't.
Okay, you two. You really need to guard your magic better, or the nutjobs around here will kill you. I'm serious. But I'm not sure how long we can stick around if Nolan is understating the current situation as badly as I think he is...
Kit stares accusingly at Nolan.
NOLAN
We have two days before the warrant gets here.
KIT
Warrant?!
NOLAN
If I become a girl and Jora pretends to be human, we should be unobtainable.
Two days. Teach them to guard their magic.
Nolan holds up the key, turns it slightly, and vanishes again.
KIT
(sitting heavily)
Gods. What.
Theramon is just staring, his hand on his sword.
THERAMON
He is Voice?
KIT
Huh?
RAGHURAM
Apparently! Well, the champion would be, right? And here! That is so cool.
KIT
Cool? This isn't cool. This is... not... cool. No.
RAGHURAM
No? Why not? Think about it! You could do anything, be anything! Armies at your feet. All the epics of the ages, and you could be the heart of the biggest one yet!
KIT
Erry can be the heart. I'm going to retire and raise goats.
RAGHURAM
Don't you want to see how it plays out?
KIT
I'll read the abridged version after. Well, no. No, I won't. Because I don't even want to know. I don't want to know why we got that. I don't want to know why Nolan brought us here. I don't want to know what the prophecy is. I don't want to know anything.
Suddenly, very intimately, I fully understand the plebeian need to imbibe intoxicants.
Erry pulls herself up, leans over Kit, and sniffs him.
KIT
No.
ERRY
You smell funny.
KIT
Um...
ERRY
(still leaning very close over Kit)
I have intoxicants. I have an angel. It was an angel, you know. That gave me the key. I remember now.
KIT
That's great. Really.
(shoving her away)
Gerroff.
Erry bounces right back.
RAGHURAM
Actually, if there's four of you, I think I know which prophecy it is.
KIT
NO!
ERRY
Yes.
There's a knock at the door, and a somewhat worried-looking VINITA, Raghuram's mum, peers in.
VINITA
Raghu, are you okay in there?
Oh! Guests?
Raghuram, Theramon, and Erry all just stare at her. Kit shoves Erry off him again and then turns around to peer at her as well.
VINITA
Er...
RAGHURAM
Hey mum! These are my friends. That's Theramon, and Kit, and...
THERAMON
(bowing slightly)
Ma'am.
KIT
An annoying little twit.
RAGHURAM
Kit's sister.
ERRY
Hey! I have a name.
RAGHURAM
(leaning forward insistently)
Then tell me what it is. I will keep it for you, in a saaaafe place.
Erry stares at him for a moment.
Raghuram stares right back.
ERRY
I'm Erry. You're weird.
KIT
He's weird?!
ERRY
You're all weird!
Kit kicks at Erry.
THERAMON
Stop that.
VINITA
I... well. Good to meet you, then. You all good? Some drinks, snacks?
Raghu, come up and we'll get them some drinks.
RAGHURAM
But but but...
VINITA
(gesturing with her head)
Raghu.
RAGHURAM
Fine.
Raghuram gets up and follows his mum up.
Kit and Erry turn to stare at Theramon.
ERRY
Are you a Deathdealer?
THERAMON
Yes.
ERRY
Can you kill Kit for me?
THERAMON
No.
Kit socks her.
THERAMON
Your friend. Who is he?
KIT
Nolan? He's... Nolan.
ERRY
You can't really explain Nolan. That he's Nolan is really the only explanation.
KIT
Because he's Nolan.
THERAMON
Mage?
KIT
Nooooooo.
Erry dissolves into hopeless giggles.
KIT
He doesn't do magic. Any magic. Unless it's an object. He'll sometimes use objects.
THERAMON
He... moved himself.
KIT
Teleported? Yeah, I dunno how he did that. Wasn't a spell, though. He doesn't do spells.
THERAMON
You are from Soravia?
KIT
Yeah.
THERAMON
(dropping into Soravian)
Then may we perhaps speak Soravian instead?
KIT
Moment.
(he pauses for a moment)
Reset self alack. Badgers geese rubber ducks.
(now actually sounding like Soravian)
Okay, yeah. Better?
THERAMON
You have no idea what a relief this is. Deslau is not an easy language to learn.
KIT
Well, Raghu's probably going to want to speak his own language too, unless... hmm. What is your native tongue?
THERAMON
Desh.
KIT
Okay, I don't know that at all. Can you give me an example?
THERAMON
Was brauchst du mir zu sagen?
KIT
Erry, give us some Deslau.
ERRY
Saya ikan yang makan dunia, dan kini anda semua mesti mematuhi genggaman saya.
Kit gives Erry a dubious look, and then pulls a scarf out of his pocket and shapes some spells onto it.
THERAMON
What's this for?
KIT
Problem one: you can't understand what all people are saying. Problem two: you present as a mage, at least to anyone who's got some skill themselves. Problem three: I have two days to figure out how to keep you alive before we apparently need to run away.
Obvious answer is just make you the same stuff we're using and then let you go on your merry way.
And then run away in preferably the opposite direction entirely just in case one of us totally screws up regardless, because then at least we don't all die.
Except I'm not really sure how to enchant... people. Um.
THERAMON
No, we should stay together.
Kit finishes the casting and folds it over onto itself, hiding the glow of the initial spells.
KIT
Try this.
Theramon picks it up curiously.
KIT
Say something.
THERAMON
Saya tidak pasti apa yang anda...
ERRY
Anda bercakap deslau!
Theramon gives her a surprised look.
KIT
Reset fish.
So as long as you keep that on you, you should automatically hear deslau translated to desh, and if you speak desh, it'll come out as deslau. Turn it off by taking it off or saying these words in whatever language: 'Reset self agog. Chickens waffles muffins boo.' You probably don't need all of it if you're in mind of casting, but otherwise the full string is needed.
'Reset fish' to turn it back on.
THERAMON
I'm impressed.
KIT
I have no idea about problem two, though. And no, we shouldn't stick together. That would make this serious.
ERRY
We are not serious. You understand? Not. Serious.
KIT
See, we agree. That's how seriously not serious this is.
ERRY
We never agree.



They're all eating dinner, including Raghuram's two sisters, DEVI and TARA. It's a bit awkward, but conversation is happening.
Nolan reappears next to Kit.
Vinita drops her fork and stares at him. The sisters also stop and stare.
TARA
(pointing)
Magic!
NOLAN
I was wrong. We only have a few hours.
Kit give him an exasperated look.
Vinita clears her throat.
NOLAN
We need to do a jailbreak.
KIT
Jora? So do your... thing and pull her out.
NOLAN
They would see it.
KIT
So do your thing, bonk everyone on the head, and then pull her out?
NOLAN
No.
VINITA
Raghu?
RAGHURAM
(looking sheepish)
Another friend?
Vinita rearranges her utensils, and then gets up slowly.
KIT
What, then?
NOLAN
Turn ourselves in.
Vinita clears her throat again. Loudly.
Nolan regards her blankly.
NOLAN
I need to take your other guests. We may die. I'm sorry about your son's involvement in all of this, but you can trust Theramon sa Tgomi to keep him safe. They are both capable.
THERAMON
(also getting up)
What's going on?
KIT
What are our crimes?
NOLAN
Heresy, murder, destruction of property, and use of magic.
KIT
And how much of that actually happened?
NOLAN
There was some destruction of property. And heresy.
KIT
But nobody actually died, right?
NOLAN
Their dead priest was an accident caused by their own overreaction.
KIT
Wait, but they don't know about me and Erry.
NOLAN
Their inquisitors got your descriptions out of Jora rather quickly. It was very unpleasant.
KIT
They tortured her? She's still alive, right?
VINITA
Stop right there. What is going on? What did you do? Who is being tortured? Why is my son involved in all of this, and how...
(she directs the full force of her ire on Theramon)
...are you responsible?
THERAMON
I'd like to know that myself.
Theramon looks at Kit.
Kit gets up and faces Nolan. This puts their faces about two inches apart.
NOLAN
The calculations failed. This key introduces too much chaos.
Nolan drops the key on the table. It lands with a clink and glints up at them.
Kit turns and picks it up uncertainly.
NOLAN
I was wrong.
VINITA
Look, I don't know what you're up to, but you are not involving my son. Am I clear? Raghu?
Raghuram doesn't answer. He's just staring off into space.
DEVI
(waving a hand in Raghuram's face)
He's completely zonked again, mum.
VINITA
(sighing)
Okay...
ERRY
That key is how you're doing that, right? Why don't we just get her out, then... then stop using it. Fix the problem first?
NOLAN
Chaos. No sheep.
ERRY
No?
NOLAN
No.
KIT
So... what happened? Will you sit down or something?
Nolan backs up a bit.
NOLAN
Ingress. Distraction. Spoke to the priests. Not helpful. Spoke harder. Didn't take us seriously. Issued threats. Referenced stories. Secret ones, not so secret. Hit on 'World's Key'. Followed up. Champion carries key. Prophecies surround Champion, Champion saves something.
Egress. Matter resolved. Calculated veracity, reported. Warrant issued. Negotiations. Attacked, fought back. Calculations wrong. Property damage. Alchemy reactions. One killed in explosion. Surrendered to avoid killing rest.
Warrant amended.
Interrogations. Unclean means. Screams.
Warrant amended for three accompices: boy, girl, wizard.
KIT
And your solution is for us to turn ourselves in?!
NOLAN
We swap places. You become me, I become you. You will be free to magic. I will be restrained.
KIT
How about no?
RAGHURAM
(getting up)
Okay, I know how to get your friend out, but we need to leave now.
VINITA
Like hell you are.
RAGHURAM
Mum, this is really important. I'm sorry, but I have to.
VINITA
Why? This isn't your fight.
RAGHURAM
It is. I'm sorry.
TARA
What, you're really leaving?
DEVI
They're all leaving.
THERAMON
You've known for a long time this time would come. Let him go.
I will keep him safe. I give you my word.
VINITA
But...
Vinita sinks back into her chair as everyone else finally gets up.
ERRY
Very lovely meal, Mrs. D.

Vardaman

Something important

ARIEL
It's like staring your own death right in the face when it's already happened so long ago.
VARDAMAN
Ariel...
ARIEL
(suddenly frowning, then looking at Vardaman intensely)
Vardaman! I... I forgot what I was saying?
VARDAMAN
(he rolls his eyes)
Of course you did.

...something probably important is said/happens here.

VARDAMAN
Your dreamer told you all of this?
ARIEL
No, not her. The other one. The one that's... here. She's been in the room, waiting, all these years. Waiting and watching, and holding no wrath.
She's proud of him. She's so proud of him. So sad, but so proud of him.

Faith in a table

ARIEL
Might as well have faith in a table?
Vardaman grunts.
ARIEL
I'd trust a table.
VARDAMAN
Of course you would.
ARIEL
Very solid things, tables. Very real.

Zombies with rocket launchers

Ariel ran down the slope, waving her sword and yelling. It wasn't the smart thing to do unless you wanted to draw attention, but she felt watched and for lack of a better idea it seemed as good a way as any to draw any watchers out. And out they came - zombies armed with... well, she wasn't quite sure. Something thick and cylindrical and very, very black. And pointed at her.

Vardaman just stared at her for a moment, then yelled, "Get down!". She saw he was already behind a stump as she managed to dodge the first couple fireballs, but the third hit her square in the face.

Everything exploded.


Ariel looked down the slope. They had stopped by a large stump, because something didn't feel right. Eyes. There were eyes. And she remembered the fireball coming toward her, getting bigger, and nowhere to go...

"There are undead down there," she said, and cast a seeker spell. The glimmer highlighted through the trees.

"How did you know that?"

That was the question, wasn't it? And how could she explain that she could go back and do anything over, that whenever she died, she simply got a horrible jolt and then could refocus wherever, and, for that matter, whenever? Some wizards did it; she knew this because they had been the ones to give her the idea in the first place, but not with this level of control. No mortal should have this level of control over their own deaths.

"Lucky guess?"

He snorted. "Armed?"

The stupid thing, of course, was that if she didn't have this fallback, she would never be so reckless in the first place. It just worked so well, and as awful as dying was, you got used to it. Just like how dreamers get used to waking up in the morning, she supposed. It sounded dreadful.

"Got blasty things."

"Great." He screwed a knob onto the end of his staff and hefted it. "Good thing we've got blastier."

Everything went white.

Random

"I remember too much. I don't know what has already happened, and what yet needs to happen."

Meet in the park

Vardaman was seated on one of the benches overlooking the park. He looked utterly out of place in this civilised land, a warrior shrouded in leathers and death, and he looked tired.

Ariel sat beside him. She supposed she probably didn't look much better. Younger. Prettier. Dirtier, if anything. Lost and tired.

They watched nothing in particular. Clouds drifting overhead. Some kids playing ball. A man with his dog. Wind in the trees.

"Anything?" Ariel asked.

"No."

"I think I found him."

"Aye?"

"He's dead."

"We knew that."

"Not exactly," she said. "His name is not in the Book of the Dead. He was taken without passing through the halls of judgement."

"You can't know that."

"Probably Saro."

He winced. "How?"

"You would have paid their price in full. Mine was cheaper."

"And what did they ask?"

"They could not buy what I do not have, but whores are universal." He looked at her, but she said, "Don't worry, Vardaman. It was interesting."

"Heh." He smiled slightly. "Everything is, to you, isn't it?"

"It's new."

Death and judgement

She was standing in a vast hall, walls distant, ceiling high above. Everything was grey. An enormous throne stood before them, and on it a winged cat groomed itself, but it was simply background. A robed figure read off names, one by one. Names for those around, but they didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

A whisper tugged at the back of her mind as she stared at nothing. There was only nothing, and more nothing. This place, and nothing, and then the whisper again.

Ariel, it said. The space was clearer. There was a concept here.

Ariel, listen to me. And then she saw the others. She saw the cat, and the robed figure, and the sarcophagi lining the walls. She saw the others, shades one and all, and raised her hand to look - she was as they were. Not quite there, not quite real.

"Dreamer," she said aloud. And she listened.

You are Ariel Sartorien. Remember who you are and all else will follow.

None of the others noticed. None of them moved, simply waiting in turn for their names and sentences to be called, the Voice reading them off, one by one, the winged cat behind him ignoring it all with style.

Names. Lives. Judgements. Sentences. She listened, half hearing, half waiting, half wondering what the hell she was going to say, because she was going to have to say something, and half, somewhere in the very back of her mind, smacking herself for forgetting the meaning of the word 'half'.

"Augorine Zha Siel. You have lived in service, and for your acts and deeds you have been judged as true. Go forth."

"Dyre Austeroferoz. You have lived in fear, and made the world your own, but throughout you have lived without faith. Go forth."

"David Weaver..."

The souls, once called, simply faded away, each by each.

And then it was her turn.

"Anja Torn," the Voice intoned. "You have-"

"No," she interrupted. "My name is Ariel Sartorien!" The Voice moved as if to speak, but she continued over him. "I'm Ariel! I dream the Dreamer's dream, and act as her will upon the world, and you will let me go. In the name of Eapherod, and for the sake of the god you serve in turn, you will let me go!"

Her voice echoed for a moment, and then a silence fell over the hall.

"I see," the Voice said finally.

Ariel stared at him resolutely, though she wondered vaguely where the hell 'Eapherod' had come from. Some webcomic, perhaps? She had a vague idea of shapes on a page, and weird speech bubbles. But what was it?

"Very well," he said. "You have lived and died in the service of your god. Go forth and continue as she commands."

Now you run for it, the Dreamer whispered as everything went blank. And be careful. You never know when some...

New god: Eapherod

"Vardaman," Ariel began, "Have you ever heard of Eapherod?"

"What, the god of dreams?" He looked at her for a moment, then said, "Of course not. Who's heard of her?"

"Right, nevermind." She stared into the fire.

He finished a shalott and threw the bottle into the fire.

"Vardaman," Ariel began again as he tried to wrest a new bottle out of his bag. "Yesterday, had you ever heard of Eapherod?"

"What?" He gave her a weird look. "Why would yesterday be any different from today?"

"The world of men is dreaming," she said. "It has gone mad in its sleep, and a snake is strangling it, but it can't wake up."

"That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever."

"Yes."

"Good. I'm glad we've established this." He popped out the cork and took a long swig, savouring the strange textures of the top of the bottle.

"Vardaman," she said when he was done choking on the fumes. "Have you ever died?"

"Er... no?"

"Oh."

"Have you?" he finally asked.

"Of course."

He stared at her.

"It's like waking up, I suppose." She cocked her head. "Except I can't imagine ever waking. So instead of waking I die. Whereas you wake, so you don't need to die."

"That's... lovely."

"Is it?"

"No." He glowered at her. "Seriously, woman, I have no fucking idea what the hells you're talking about."

"Sorry," she said.

Shrine and no mystery

"I know many things," Ariel said. "I know the atomic weight of curry, and the favourite colours of cast of Waste Land, and time it takes to drain a human body of blood given inadequate suction, and the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything."

"What is it?" the priestess asked.

"42," Ariel said. "At least that's the answer I'm sticking to. It's all a book, see. Always books."

"Right," Vardaman said, and got back the entire point of their being there. "Priestess, is Eapherod real?"

"Of course?" She looked at him quizzically.

"See?" he said, turning to Ariel. "Not made up. You now have the word of a woman in a weird black dress on that."

"Everything is made up at some point," Ariel said.

Vardaman rolled his eyes.

"I'm sorry," the priestess said, "But is there some particular problem you have?"

Vardaman grunted. "Dreams. Fucking weird things. Now zombies, those are sensible. You know where you stand with zombies."

"Where?"

He paused for a moment, then said. "Preferably very far away."

Ariel looked at him, confused. "But we've gone well out of our way to fight them."

"Right," he said. "And we've generally done it from a distance."

"Except when they had rocket launchers."

"Zombies aren't supposed to have rocket launchers."

"But those did."

"Those were different."

"Who are you people?" the priestess interrupted.

The two wanderers exchanged glances, and then Ariel said, "Well, he's a deathdealer, and I'm... I'm real. I'm real and I have pills and I am very clear on this."

The priestess gave them a long look.

"We were just leaving," Vardaman said, turning Ariel around. "Sorry to have bothered you."

But then Ariel pulled free. "Wait," she said, turning back to the priestess. "Do you dream the Dreamer's dream?"

"Of course."

"What is the square root of rope?"

"String?"

"Who reigns king of the sandcastle?"

"Kyrule of Arling Tor."

Ariel shrieked and hid behind Vardaman.

"What," he said, moving out of the way, "are you even on about now?"

"Who would you say reigns, little dreamer?" the priestess asked, as though in a trance.

Ariel stared for a moment and then sighed. "Oh, it's Kyrule. Definitely Kyrule. He just... he scares me, is all." She paused. "I mean... I could say Sherandris, but he ain't here and I ain't been anywhere but here, and he's going to die, the Dreamer doesn't want him to, but she made it so and now he's going to die just as sure as she is." She stopped for breath, then looked confused. "I'm confused."

Vardaman took the opportunity to finally steer Ariel out of the shrine.

Hells

Honoured Dead

Ahead, three daemons stood over a solitary figure - an Honoured Dead, alone for reasons they could only guess. One of the daemons poked at him mockingly, and there was a roar of laughter as the Honoured backed away, looking around frightfully in the hopes of salvation.

Vardaman moved to pull Ariel into an alley, but the Honoured had already spotted them.

"You!" the Honoured commanded, "Help me!"

"Oh, shit," Vardaman muttered. They both felt the compulsion to obey, despite the seemingly worrying odds - the daemons were twice as big as they were, and as the Hells were their realm, only all the more powerful - but they also had little other incentive to resist, as such would only arouse suspicion.

Drawing his sword, Vardaman walked slowly forward and stopped in front of the Honoured, looking calmly up at the daemons while Ariel lingered behind, hopefully doing something useful. He wasn't sure if he could take on all three of them at once, and the Honoured Dead soul behind him had shown no signs of competence.

"You've got yourself an army now, dead soul," the lead daemon hissed. "Damned souls to do your bidding, and you think it'll save you?" Its companions bellowed laughter.

"Uh," the Honoured said. Then Ariel let out a yell and, jumping out from behind him, threw a pair of spells at the closer daemons. The leader dodged, but she managed to hit another. It disintegrated.

Taking his cue, Vardaman leapt forward as well, dodging around the others and slashing and stabbing at them with the agility born of years of simply trying to stay alive. It was short work, and as the last toppled behind him, he turned and angrily yelled at Ariel, "Can we perhaps come back to that discussion we were having before?"

"Er," she said, and hid behind the Honoured Dead.

"You know, that one about consequences!" He stopped as though finally noticing the petrified Honoured he'd been shouting around. "What?"

The Honoured let out a deep breath. "I thank you," he said, not looking at either of them.

Vardaman grimaced, then said, "Perhaps you can help us in turn. We're looking for someone..."

"Vardaman," Ariel interrupted, stepping around the Honoured soul. "Don't."

He looked at her. "What?"

"He won't know. No Honoured Dead could."

Vardaman groaned. "Oh, right. Of course not. They won't know anything. It's not like the name was in the Ledger." He stopped and then threw his arms into the air. "The name wasn't in the Ledger. Fuck! So how do we even know he's here, then? This could just be a wild goose chase!"

"Have faith." She smiled slightly. "For without it, what do we have left?"

"Eternal damnation?"

"Besides that?"

"No, I'm pretty sure it's just fucking eternal damnation." He grumbled, then swung his sword up and pointed it at the Honoured. "You," he said, "What do you know of daemons?"

The Honoured took a step backwards, probably more out of surprise than anything else. "The Lords rule the Hells. The lesser daemons serve them in battle?"

"Yes, yes," Vardaman said, lowering the sword. "But what do they do? How do they plan, where do they congregate, and if they try to pull some fucking stupid shit under the gods' noses, how would they go about it?"

"That's impossible. They cannot go against the gods, to do so would be..." he stared at Vardaman.

"What?" Ariel said. "Unthinkable?"

The Honoured nodded mutely.

"Think it."

"I..." he began, but then he stopped to think, to really think. "In the pits. In the fields. The Lords of this level reign from there, and the bloodiest battles are fought before them, with fodder of souls and soldiers. It is utter chaos, and neither side pays heed to details." He looked up at Ariel and Vardaman. "That is all I can think of. But at best you will only find scavengers... they would not actually pull anything. They could not."

"Yeah," Vardaman said. "The daemons of the Hells trying to spread their hell? Unthinkable."

Temptress

"Ariel, you are the worst temptress ever."

"Oh?"

"You turn me against my god, and for what? Such a betrayal should at least entail some fun in the doing."

She laughed. "You're actually enjoying this, aren't you."

"Never."

"Not even a small bit?"

"Only if we get out of this alive."

"Afraid to face your god's wrath, are you?"

"Shut up."

Escape up the river

"I'm afraid Ariel isn't available at present," Ariel's voice said. "She has had a significant trauma, and while the nature of dreams is resilient, even she cannot rebound so quickly."

"Then who..." Vardaman began.

"Eapherod," Kyrule said. "Aren't you supposed to be dead?"

Ariel smiled, whoever she was. "With a little patience, certainly. Do I know you?"

"Do you?" Kyrule said.

She looked at him for a moment, then said, "You are Kyrule of Arling Tor. I know you for the king you are, but you know me for something else entirely. What is it?"

"I only know a name. In your words, who are you?"

"Athyria of Kenning Vos."

"And Sherandris?"

"Reigns king of the sandcastle." When he said nothing, she asked, "Did Eapherod ever say who reigns?"

"I did not yet know to ask."

"Ask her if you get the chance."

Death explained

"A house fell on me," Ariel said.

Vardaman turned toward her. "What?"

"You asked how I died," she said, staring off into space. "A house fell on me."

He rubbed his brow. "An entire house."

"Yes."

Confused, the high priest looked enquiringly to Vardaman.

"Just ignore her," Vardaman said. You've got to hand it to this gal, he thought to himself. Always chooses the absolutely weirdest times to raise questions... and damn strange ones they tended to be, at that.

"Okay..."

The mystery

"Coraline's the mystery! We have to save her."

"Save her from what?"

"From the princess, of course!"

Eapherod

"Isn't Eapherod dead?" Vardaman asked. Then, suddenly looking very confused, he turned toward Ariel.

"Don't look at me," she said. "I haven't the foggiest idea about anything because I don't have the foggiest idea about any of this and I don't have the foggiest idea at all because I don't know anything because I don't know anything and I don't know anything and I don't know anything and it's all not anything so don't look at me!" She clapped her hands over her ears and stared determinedly off into space.

Vardaman blinked. Lacking any idea of anything better to do, he blinked again, and then a few times more. Finally, he said, "What?"

"Yes," the man said.

But Vardaman wasn't so sure. Eapherod had certainly seemed alive when she'd spoken through Ariel before. If that had been Eapherod. What had Kyrule called her?

Ariel interrupted his thoughts by saying, "The wombats are right, you know. Gods really are entirely more trouble than they're worth."

"No," the man said.

"No," Ariel said.

"Yes," the man said.

"Yes," Ariel parroted.

"Yes," the man repeated.

"The Dark Sister cannot die," Ariel explained. "She who was living is still living, though not necessarily here. I bet your Kyrule knows. He's awfully shiny. I doubt she'll listen to him. I know I wouldn't."

"Yes," the man repeated again, not really paying any attention.

"Sometimes I'm her, you know," Ariel said dreamily. "I wonder who she'll be after she dies. I wonder if death truly is the heaven to the hell of dying. I don't want to see it, but there's nothing to see anyway. Nothing is scary. Defines too much."

Later, she added, "She doesn't want to die either. She just knows she has to in order for all this to end. For herself to have a proper beginning. Her other self."

Ariel's reactions to gods

Vardaman elbowed Ariel in the ribs.

It took a moment for her to respond, but when she did, he said, "Kyrule."

She hissed.

Then he said, "Eapherod."

Her eye twitched.

"Alyre."

"Her I like," Ariel said.

He shook his head bemusedly. "You are bizarre."

She grinned and said, "Veshura!'

"What about her?"

"I like her too."

"Bizarre."

"Name reminds me of Ganesh," she said. "Deeds of Boethia. No real downsides."

"And would those be cats or gods?"

"Why choose? Why ever choose when you can have cats and gods? Lokshmi forever!"

He looked at her.

"What? Lokshmi is awesome. Saves the world, you know. She does. I think?"

Random

"The cleric has a bunch of dead gods in her head. She'll tell you all about how these are better than yours. And perhaps they are. They're older, at least."




"Hazz'ridan!" Ariel yelled angrily.

"You and your cursing Hazz'ridan." Vardaman shook his head.

"It's what he's there for. Grack!" She glowered for emphasis.

"To be cursed?"

Ariel looked at him. "He's a bloody god of dead ends. What the buckets else would he be there for?"

Juggling ale

She juggled some ale. Something niggled in her mind, something about the mystery. Who was it? Where were they going? Who was this Coraline? There was something about it that she was unsure about, but she also wasn't sure about just what that was.

Vardaman, of course, was still drinking his. Strange effect it had on him. Was it because he was human? Or was it because he was real? In dreams, it was as though everything was real, and everything was nothing. Perhaps that was also why the ale changed nothing. It was all still real, all still there, all still so perfectly reasonable. Juggling ale, of course, was reasonable too.

"Nice," someone said.

"Hmm?" she turned toward the voice, then completely freaked out. It was... what was it? A monster, a horror, a... a... "AAAAGH!" she yelled, and dropped the ale all over her feet in her haste to get away, to flee.

"I'm sorry," the figure said. It looked... human? Underneath the horror, a human. "I didn't mean to startle you."

She backed away. "I... I... what... you..." She stopped for breath. "What are you?"

It looked confused. "A humble priest, nothing more."

Ariel looked at it. It was... terrifying. She wasn't sure why, but here, standing before her, she perceived a monster. And yet all she saw was a man, an ordinary man, robed in black. Strong in his faith, coloured like Vardaman. Like death. Like Kyrule.

"Are you okay?" he asked. He looked genuinely concerned.

She closed her eyes. "I'm sorry. It's your Lord. Your Lord scares the ever-living shit out of me, frankly, and I guess I freaked out a bit because of that and I'm sorry."

"Why?" he asked.

She looked at him again. That was, actually, a rather excellent question. Why, indeed? Because... "Because I fucked up," she said. "I fucked up and now, to me, he is a symbol of that failure." She unconsciously drew the ale back up off the ground into a twiling ball and laughed. "How stupid is that?"

"But why would Kyrule be such a symbol?" the priest asked.

She flinched at the name, but said, "He caught me."

"Caught?"

She broke the ball up into bits and started juggling again. "That's what we call it. The souls of the dead just sort of drift out, you know, until the deathgod catches them. And one time he caught me, and it didn't go quite proper. I'm not sure why. Something about... something. I can't explain it, it's just this feeling, it was missing and it didn't work."

The priest-horror looked confused.

"Wasn't his fault, though" Ariel said. "He did everything proper. It was the Dreamer, she kind of borked it."

"What dreamer?"

"Oh, Eapherod as Eapherod, she never would. I don't think she ever could. She's too... well, let's just say she knows a thing or two Kyrule don't. Or she will. Once she finally shows up all those years ago." Ariel laughed and lobbed a ball of ale at the priest's head.

When he ducked, she darted past and out the door, out into the night and the sweet, sweet wind, where she could yell and chatter with all her might, without anyone to object.

Dead body

Ariel poked the body with a stick. "In my professional medical opinion," she said dramatically, "this is a dead body."

"Really?!" Vardaman said with mock shock.

She dropped the stick and knelt down by it. "Oh, yes." She started checking out various aspects of the corpse in more detail - limbs and various regions for bruising and signs of broken bones; eyes and mouth for general oddities; wrists, ankles, and neck for ligature marks; everywhere in general for discolourations; and so forth. "Hey Vardaman," she said, "how do undead work?"

"You know what?" he said, picking up Ariel, "You're done here." He carried her several feet away and set her down again, facing away. "Stay there, yes?"

She eyeballed him, but said nothing as he went back to the body. And, for the time being, she even stayed put.

Thing with Ariel and a hole

Ale on head

Ariel announced, "Vardaman activates special power: become shit-faced drunk!"

He responded by dumping the rest of his ale on her head and shoving the empty mug back toward the barkeep.

Ariel stood and glared at him.

The barkeep gave him and Ariel an odd look, but, when it became clear she wasn't actually going to do anything about it, obliged and refilled the mug, which Vardaman took and happily went back to working on.

"Right, then," Ariel said, and wandered away from the bar. She cast a quick spell to get the ale out of her hair and, twirling it between her hands absent-mindedly, wondered just what to do now.




"What are they?" Ariel asked.

"We have no idea," Nellis said. "They act like zombies, but they're... well, they're not. They're not really undead at all."

Woods

They set out into the woods as soon as they were equipped. The ranger took point, guiding them through the dark, with Ariel and Nellis close behind. It seemed a mission of great importance and urgency. Ariel had a really bad feeling about it, but said nothing.

The clearing wasn't far. They came out of the trees and were met by a well of moonlight and utter horror rising out of the brush, sinking into the depths of what seemed almost a ravine, though in truth it was nothing more than a small hollow. Dark and indiscernible objects littered the floor, but what drew the eye, what really drew it, was the pool of absolute nothing in the centre. It was a blackness so pure it gleamed, though no light could ever reflect from something so hungry, so empty.

"Now you see why we were concerned?" Nellis whispered.

The ranger led them to a group of rocks overlooking the hollow. From here they could see everything, but anything looking up would be unlikely to see them, if it even looked with eyes. For the moment all was still, so it was hard to guess.

"Stay here, then," Ariel said. "I'ma get a closer look." She had no idea what she hoped to accomplish, but part of her knew this was too important to trip up over such meddling details as her innate incompetence. As she stood, she faded into the background, not exactly invisible, but just not important anymore. The others could still see her, but anything that didn't know she was there would have had a very hard time ever noticing her.

She half slid, half fell down to the bottom, but none of the mounds stirred. They seemed... asleep. Animals of the forest that were no longer animals, slumbering together irregardless of what they had been - a bull here, a mountain cat there, rabbits, wolves, badgers. But now they were dangerous, paying her no mind as she walked past only because they didn't know she was there. She could feel it, the menace, the fright, the confusion... the hunger. It scared her.

And the closer she got to the pool, the stronger it got.

She stopped by its shore. Oblong and dark. Flat and empty. The same from all angles. It looked like a rendering error, almost. A rendering error that had tried to mate with a black hole. She picked up a pebble and dropped it in. It hit in silence and disappeared.

Ariel looked around, but the slumbering mounds around were as still as ever. Nellis and the ranger seemed to still be by the rocks. It was all on her at the moment. Fuck, she thought, and stuck her bow into the ground so it stood by the shore, by the edge, like a sentinel. And so it would be.

Focussing her mind on the bow such that she could return to it, and only it, she jumped into the pool of blackness.

Visions

She was in a room, square by rectangle by square. The walls were smooth and precise. The ceiling glowed, an indistinct light source. The floor had a slightly raised pad on one side, and a slight indentation on the other. There were no windows or doors.

"Prisoner 8471369, you are called to stay. Stay your piece." The voice filled the room like an intercom. It made as much sense as one too.

"What?" Ariel said.

There was no response. No change.

The bow echoed in the back of her mind like a beacon, though she wasn't entirely sure what to do with it.

She sat on the pad. She paced and waited. The voice returned, and repeated its words.

"Prisoner 8471369, you are called to stay. Stay your piece."

She tried to argue, tried to plead. When it came again she tried to throw a piece of her clothing, but the robe had nothing to throw. It was simply there.

She sat. She waited. The voice came and went. She waited and responded. It came and went. She stood, she spoke, she bounced off walls. Mad words came to her lips and filled the room. The voice still came, still stayed the same, still intoned its odd request.

"Prisoner 8471369, you are called to stay. Stay your piece."

Nothing changed.

"Prisoner 8471369, you are called to stay. Stay your piece."

Repetition of silence and voice.

Light without shadow.

Sound without source.

No hunger. No sleep.

The voice as she sat and waited. The silence as she told herself stories, as she tried to dream, oh, how she tried to dream. But there was nothing left to dream. There was nobody to be. Who was she?

Long silence, interruption and long silence. Nothing to say or do. Nothing but walls. Floor. Ceiling. A bow in the back of her mind like a beacon. The voice.

"Prisoner 8471369, you are called to stay. Stay your piece."

Nothing but time.

Time.

"Prisoner 8471369, you are called to stay. Stay your piece."

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

There was simply nothing. She slipped into the void.


She was standing by the pool again. Memories, voices, feelings, flooded about in a cacophony of normalcy. She knew who she was. She knew where she was. Her hand was on the bow. The pool was before her. It had all been... a dream? Or had it? She stared at the pool in abject terror. If it was a pool. If it was anything at all.

She would have to try again.

Everything about her wanted to flee, but instead she focussed on the bow and leapt once more.


... (another)


She was standing by the pool, shaking. A lifetime. It had been an entire lifetime. Forever in a moment. And now here she was again. What was this? What?


... (another)


Closing the hole

She was standing by the pool. None of it meant a damn thing. It was all just objects, fragments, pieces and pieces of nothing at all.

She shook herself. What the hell had happened? Nothing had happened. Everything had happened. It didn't matter. Here she was.

It's a portal. A hole. the Dreamer said. You know what you need to do.

Ariel looked around at the slumbering mounds and nodded. She pulled an arrow from her quiver and got to work, driving it into each form, and waiting while each ceased to move and became mostly harmless once more. Dispersing the darkness. When the arrow faded or broke, she simply got out another.

Then there were none left, just empty carcasses. The sky was lightening. Birds and insects sang, though none particularly nearby.

Nellis and the ranger were picking their way past the forest's dead like the uncertain victors of a battle that had made no sense. Probably because it hadn't.

"What now?" Nellis said.

"Now we pray." Ariel said, looking toward the pool. The portal. They needed to get rid of it.

Nellis raised an eyebrow.

Ariel paused, but pulled out another arrow. "This," she said, pointing toward the portal. "While this is here, it won't ever stop."

"But how?" the ranger said.

She smiled and turned back to it. In truth, she was scared out of her wits, but it didn't matter. It couldn't. She said the words. "Kyrule of Arling Tor," she intoned, "I, who have no name, would call on you in the name of Kenning Vos, to close this hole upon your kingdom, and upon all others. Act through my motions, and end this."

Then she whispered, "Dreamer, guide my eyes, for I cannot see."

She poked the pool with the arrow.

There was darkness. There was light. There was pain, and then there was nothing at all.

Sunlight exploded into the clearing. The pool was gone. Ariel lay by her bow, the strange shadowy arrow still in hand, all too still. But the air had cleared, and the sense of wrongness that had pervaded the area was gone as well.

Nellis ran and rolled her over, but she was clearly dead, skin too pale to seem skin at all, eyes that faded into blackness. The arrow dissolved into dust as it slipped from her lifeless hand.

"What in the hells?" the ranger asked. "The Lord of Death wouldn't take her for that, would he?"

Nellis shook his head. "I don't know. With this... it may have been a necessary sacrifice."

The other bowed his head, then shook it. "She knew."

"Perhaps. It was certainly no coincidence that I found her." He sighed. "Let's get back to the city."

Awkward conversation

"I was created with a single purpose in mind, and I existed to fulfil that purpose above all else. But something came up that took precedence."

"What?"

She shook her head. "It is strange to have one's very existence called into question, and then sacrifice everything for that question. Very strange," she said. Then she looked straight at him. "We look to our kings, Vardaman."

"What happened?" he asked, confused.

But she only shook her head again. "You should ask Kyrule. My Dreamer would not have me say."

Random

"Eapherod is just a sideshow."




"Do you think the gods ever get stoned?"

"Have you ever seen a bellduck?"

Another hells thing

When she passed through the Gate, she was alone. Whether this was by design or instead a simple struck of luck was unknown to her, but it didn't matter - the course was the same regardless. Forward, and on.

It was a standard hell: plains of lava, interspersed with the Towers. Souls and demons stood around and passed from each to each, doing their things, striding across the firey ground as though nothing were off. Cosmetic? she wondered vaguely, and looked up to the closest tower, directly ahead, welcoming all who passed the Gate with its immense architecture. It would be the proper way to go. The standard, the expected. Best avoided.

She skirted across the lava fields instead, dancing through the licking flames. She didn't know where she was going, but she had an idea regardless. This way. Onwards.

Back door

The back door was untended, so she pushed it open and slipped through.

The other side was a breath of strange air, architecture reminiscent of a rising city, party guests in formal attire, fake snow falling to the carpet. A large evergreen was decked out in tinsel and baubles.

Christmas? Ariel wondered. But how? Then one of them was telling her, "Welcome, welcome! Take off your coat!" and she was ushered up into the next hall.

This was not a Hall of the Hells, however. This was a high society Christmas party in full swing, full of lights and colours and laughter, with trees lining the hall, tables full of delights, and a dance floor that mesmerised with its swing and twirl. She pushed past guests who smiled and laughed, and guests who paid her no heed at all. Her dress did not fit this, with her leather coat and long pants, but she noticed a few others in similar interspersed amongst the crowd. Other denizens of the Hells? Somehow she didn't think so. This was personal to her.

Or it would have been, had it been her own memory.

It's mine, she heard the Dreamer whisper in the back of her mind.

Ascension

She darted past the demon before he could really make note, and he made no further move to stop her. Up, she pressed. To stairs. To the lifts. Around the demons, away from them. They would question, and answers she did not have. A demon on the landing, so take the lift. Prisoners in the hall, so take a moment to join them, blend in, and rest. Not that she truly needed it in this place, but it was in her nature to stop from time to time, so stop she did.

They talked, they mourned, and they did not discuss their fates. She reminisced with them, calling out the oddities of life, and the strangers that had been known, and they all nodded and understood. Yes. They'd been there.

Then the guards called for a move on, and she slipped away.




She paused at the landing. A guard stood before the next door, though it didn't look like any she'd seen below, so she headed for the lift instead, and the guard began to move too, gliding towards her at angles. Then she was inside, the half-doors closed, and the guard stopped as the lift began to rise.

More guards when she came out, here covering each of the three exits. She rolled past the closest before it could react, and realised what they were - not flesh and blood and magic like the demons themselves, but mechanical. Automatons to guard and hunt. No demon would show mercy, but they did have humour - these would not. This made them dangerous.

She threw her coat over the one at the stairs and didn't stop to check if it had even worked as she ran past, up, up.

These stairs ended in a lobby, two more of the automaton guards silently waiting for her. She pushed the nearer one away as it made a grab, and followed the force of the action over it in a long leap, landing heavily on the hard grey floor. As she regained her feet, several more automatons glided out of doorways. Behind her, the automaton she had pushed was rising wobblily, but the other was also approaching, cutting off all escape.

Ariel stopped, and sighed. "I surrender!" she said, holding out her hands. Somewhat to her surprise, the automatons likewise stopped, then one drifted toward a doorway and she implicitly knew it expected her to follow. She did.

It led her up three floors and down several corridors before stopping outside some sort of office, two demons standing guard by the door. After a moment, the door slid open and she was ushered before the desk, and the grotesque occupant of the desk. He considered her for a moment, and she regarded him as well - a large demon, out of place but not in a pretentious corporate office, nameplate, in-box, telephone, plastic plant and all. The imagery had to be drawn from her own mind, the Dreamer told her. The odds of something this specific appearing somewhere so distant were slim to none.

"So," he said silkily. "Ariel Sartorien, is it?"

She didn't answer. He knew enough already.

He paused, then nodded. "Very unusual for a Damned to come so far. Are you, then?"

She waited a moment for him to go on, but he didn't. "What?" she finally asked.

"Damned. Are you really?" He was smiling slightly now, as though enjoying some private little joke.

"Should I not be?" she said innocently.

Now the demon broke out into a full grin, horrifying in its potential. "Let's find out," he said, and the office faded away into nothing.

Escape from the Hells

Vardaman pushes and pulls the other two into the boat as the ferryman watches impassively. Charo slides into the bottom and sits wearily. Ariel collapses in a heap.
There's a long pause. Vardaman stares at the ferryman. The ferryman does nothing.
VARDAMAN
I don't suppose you'll get us out of here?
FERRYMAN
Do you have the fare?
VARDAMAN?
What?
(he checks his pockets)
Oh, no, I must have left it in my other pants...
Ariel slowly stands up behind him, taking on an aura of auraness. It's very presency. And commanding. And stuff.
ARIEL
Ferryman. You will take us from this place.
FERRYMAN
You are damned and bound. Without the fare, you cannot leave these realms.
ARIEL
You will take us. I command it.
There is a long pause. Vardaman raises a dubious eyebrow.
FERRYMAN
(bowing slightly)
Very well.
The boat slides silkily over the water...

Awkwardness

ARIEL
Vardaman, think about it this way. It's like when you lose a screw, and you don't know where it went. You take another screw and this time you watch where it falls.
VARDAMAN
Then you lose two screws?
KYRULE
Or you find both.
ARIEL
Either way you still need the screw you lost, so the second screw is a risk you can afford. But this time you're watching, so even then you're not likely to actually lose it.
VARDAMAN
What are screws?
ARIEL
They're... little thingies that hold stuff together. Easy to drop when you're working with them, though.
VARDAMAN
And the screws in this metaphor would be...?
ARIEL
Kyrule?
KYRULE
Lost souls.
ARIEL
Unfortunately I don't actually have an overabundance of souls to throw at the problem, or even any spares, so that's an issue.
KYRULE
Fishing for a donation, are you?
ARIEL
Weell...

After with Kyrule

VARDAMAN
(to Kyrule)
Can you annul a marriage?
Ariel bursts out laughing.
ARIEL
Wait, you married Old Gregg? You really did, didn't you! You still have the Funk?
VARDAMAN
(turning slowly)
...What?
ARIEL
(in a high-pitched jiggly voice)
Howard?
VARDAMAN
...
Can YOU annul a marriage?
ARIEL
I... hmm. Well, I am a reverend of Zimizmizmt. I mean, I'll have to read the manual, but yeah, maybe.
She shuffles about as though to look in her bag, and then stops a moment later.
VARDAMAN
(pivoting away)
Nope, not gonna ask.
KYRULE
<says something actually on topic>

Retirement

Vardaman complains about something.
ARIEL
Why don't you retire?
VARDAMAN
Deathdealers don't retire.
ARIEL
So what do you do?
VARDAMAN
Die.
ARIEL
What if you don't?
VARDAMAN
Everybody dies.
ARIEL
You haven't died.
Vardaman gives her an annoyed look.
ARIEL
You could have retired. Why didn't you?

Unreal Ariel

"Well, I'm not real," Ariel said. "How can I possibly communicate that with you when you are?"

"You look pretty fucking real to me," Vardaman said.

Ariel smiled sadly. "That's her magic, though, isn't it?" she said. "Even her dreams become real. Except I'm still a dream. I walk and I talk and sometimes I say things that shift the entire balance of reality, but it only works at all because I am a dream! Because I'm not real, I'm not solid, I'm not even here, not really. She just thinks I am. So I think I am. So everyone does."

Vardaman watched her consideringly.

"I don't dream the Dreamer's Dream," Ariel said. "I am her dream."

Hells plan

INT. Temple
ARIEL
Okay, problem.
VARDAMAN
(clearly not really paying attention)
Yes?
ARIEL
We can't go as Damned.
I mean, you could almost pull it off, as long as nobody looked too closely. But me? I've got nothing. There's just no way to argue it.
VARDAMAN
Great.
ARIEL
And if anyone did actually look, you'd fall apart immediately too. Your loyalty has always been impeccable. Even when you most vehemently disagreed you still obeyed, even in spirit. It's hopeless.
VARDAMAN
Okay.
ARIEL
We'll have to go in as Honoured Dead.
VARDAMAN
Huh?




EXT. City somewhere - greyness
The city is vast, grey, and disturbingly, utterly flat. A towering tower towers above it all. A horrible black void looms overhead.
There's a horrible twisting squelching of space, well-localised, and Vardaman and Ariel drop to the ground.
Vardman gives the tower a suspicious look, following its silhouette upwards with an irritated look until he's facing almost straight up.
VARDAMAN
Hmph.
Ariel peers about with great curiosity.
Various passersby pass them by, and ignore them. Other folks stand around. One guy pokes a lamppost repeatedly with a spoon.
VARDAMAN
Great. We're dead. Now what?
ARIEL
You know, this is honestly about as far as my plan actually went.
VARDAMAN
(after a long pause)
Are you fucking serious?
ARIEL
Hey, we're here. We're close.
VARDAMAN
Close.
ARIEL
Well, the Hells are clearly somewhere, right?
VARDAMAN
Seriously?
A group of Defenders pass them by, not giving them a second glance, though they seem to be wearing suspiciously similar clothing.
Ariel goes up to some others, loitering.
ARIEL
(to a random Defender)
Hey, so. If I wanted to get to the Hells, how would I get there?
After a bit of initial surprise, she gets some answers, and then continues asking around about various other things as well.
Vardaman sighs and follows after her, but is then interrupted by the Voice, who is suddenly there, addressing him.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(holding up a glowing orb of lightstuff)
There is a mission. You are to escort the consort and deliver these--
He is interrupted by Ariel scooting over.
ARIEL
What? What? What? Mission? What?
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are to deliver these messages. It will take you into the Hells, and there will be resistance, for though the Lords answer to the Eternal, they do not maintain absolute control.
ARIEL
Yes, yes.
Ariel collects the orb and starts dissecting it with her fingers, looking utterly fascinated by its various strands.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mostly to Vardaman, as Ariel is very distracted)
Understand that her safety is of the utmost importance, as without her there will be no return.
VARDAMAN
Is this... a cover?
ARIEL
(hunched over the light)
It'd look a bit strange if we just waltzed in for no reason.
VARDAMAN
And do you understand all that... light?
ARIEL
(finally looking up)
Sure, sure. Simple find and delivery. It'll take us all over, so we should be able to get close to whatever we come up with without too much suspice.
Vardaman blinks.
VARDAMAN
(to the Voice)
Er, thanks.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Your service is witnessed, as always.


INT. Somewhere else
QUARTERMASTER
You want to requisition what?
ARIEL
Demon bodies. We need to be demons. We have a very important mission in the Hells, you know.
The quartermaster gives her a blank stare.
Vardaman signs heavily.
ARIEL
This isn't complicated.
QUARTERMASTER
We, erm, don't exactly have that on hand.
ARIEL
You sure? It should be quite simple, really. We're all consciousness, floating as determined by sentence and understanding. This is simply a slightly different interpretation of that understanding.
VARDAMAN
Yeah, they don't fucking have any. Let's just go.
QUARTERMASTER
It's possible... something could be mustered, but you must understand this is most unusual.
ARIEL
(leaning close)
Certainly, certainly. I mean, really, how often do agents of the Eternal take on the hells to test His servants?
VARDAMAN
You are getting way too into this cover. Cover.
ARIEL
Cover.
VARDAMAN
Yes.
ARIEL
Yes.
The quartermaster gives them a worried look and then backs away slowly.
ARIEL
I find it somewhat suspicious how easily this is going so far.
VARADMAN
I find it suspicious that you consider this 'easy'.





They never do get any.

Standing

VARDAMAN
I know where I stand.
I am Vardaman of Iliesk, First of Kyrule, Deathdealer of the Elder Dragon, oldest of those who yet live. I answer to the God, and to His voices among the worlds, only, and I act with the will and the force of all who stand behind Him.

All

Ariel and Coraline

ARIEL
I can't believe it worked. I mean, obviously it did, but the odds of an intersection in this simple of a search pattern, they're astronomical. The space, and the time, and the universe, it's so huge, and all we had was a name, and it just happened to be right, or mostly right, and to find you here in the right town at the right time of day... you could have been anywhere. You could have been anywhen.
CORALINE
Maybe I am!
Coraline wiggles her fingers dramatically.
== Angels and angeloids ==

<screenplay>

Aeryin explains her angelic heritage.
CORALINE
How does that work? I mean...
(She looks at Myrr)
Can angels have babies?
MYRR
We do not.
ARIEL
Convergent evolution. With contact with a same or similar environment, distinct needs arise which lead to the development of the same structures and features despite unrelated lineages. It's the reason elves and humans look so similar, and why we get so many different kinds of beetles that all look the same. They're filling the same space in the universe, and so they wind up taking on analogous traits.
CORALINE
Don't beetles usually just do that to look like inedible things and not get eaten? That's more than just specific to the ecosystem.
ARIEL
To a beetle, the ecosystem is the universe. And we all have things in our universes which shape us into what we are.
VARDAMAN
Well, that's helpful.
ARIEL
I know!
CORALINE
So what are you saying?
ARIEL
Well... planeborn aren't descended from creatures of the planes; they are creatures of the planes. Aeryin here is angelic for the same reasons angels are.
FULLER
(looking oddly at Aeryin, like he never noticed anything)
How are angels angelic?
CORALINE
(after a bit of a pause)
Welcome to the tautology club.
ARIEL
The first rule of the tautology club is the first rule of the tautology club.
CORALINE
The second rule of the tautology club comes after the first rule of the tautology club.
ARIEL
The third rule...
VARDAMAN
(coming up behind them and interrupting)
Shut up.

Vardaman and Coraline

VARDAMAN
Are you Coraline Henderson?
CORALINE
(looking him over)
No. Should I be?
VARDAMAN
Are you?
CORALINE
Whatever it was, I'm innocent, really.
Zaeres raises an eyebrow.
CORALINE
Well, probably.
VARDAMAN
(suspiciously)
Probably?
CORALINE
Weeell, if this is about a pile of bodies, I might have done that.
VARDAMAN
(looking somewhat worried now)
Erm...
ZAERES
Supposing this is your Coraline Henderson, what would you be wanting of her? An answer to that might help to... persuade her more agreeable nature.
VARDAMAN
You know what, I'm really hoping she's not.
CORALINE
Aww. You're just saying that because you're not drunk enough yet.
VARDAMAN
Are you trying to bribe me?
Coraline grins, and hefts a bottle of shalott.
CORALINE
Will it work?
She waves it and nearly falls over, but before she can Zaeres grabs her shoulder.
VARDAMAN
Right...
CORALINE
Yes, alright, fine. I'm Coraline, though please don't call me that? Names are dangerous, is all.
VARDAMAN
So what, then?
ZAERES
Denereise.
VARDAMAN
And Kyrule called you Coraline because...?
CORALINE
(waving the bottle)
Because calling me Nelanor would have been really weird!
ZAERES
Nelanor?
CORALINE
(still waving the bottle)
That's my name. Don't wear it out.
ZAERES
Your true name? Oh, Denereise, you just told us your true name.
She swings the bottle at him, but misses completely.
CORALINE
Stuff it, Alores.
VARDAMAN
Is it really?
CORALINE
Sandcastles.
VARDAMAN
(he groans)
Oh.
ZAERES
What.
BARKEEPER
(leaning forward)
Is there a dragon involved?
CORALINE
(perking up)
You know, there totally should be.
VARDAMAN
(ignoring the barkeeper)
Nelanor of...?
CORALINE
Kenning Vos.
VARDAMAN
I know the name. Why do I know the name?
CORALINE
(now acting less drunk and more just tired)
Because time.
VARDAMAN
Time?
CORALINE
Zrai. Teleoth. Zorachar. Ejran. Athyria. Sherandris.
Isarra. Nelanor.
VARDAMAN
Fucking hells.
CORALINE
(tiredly)
Time.
BARKEEPER
So. Dragon? Or no dragon?





VARDAMAN
Will you stop acting drunk?
CORALINE
But I am drunk!
VARDAMAN
That's entirely beside the point!
CORALINE
(she suddenly relaxes)
Okay, you're right, it is.

Fuller's wife

FULLER
Hold a moment. Is this a mission that might be considered 'worthy'?
CORALINE
Worthy of what?
FULLER
You know, a worthy cause. Just. Proper. Good.
CORALINE
(confused)
You mean like with orphans and stuff?
FULLER
Er...
(he stops to think)
I don't think so? I mean is it more a matter of getting treasure or whatever, or more along the lines of 'this is right and we're doing this because it's right' sort of thing?
CORALINE
I think it's mostly just an OH GODS I DON'T WANT TO DIE sort of thing, really.
FULLER
Oh. Well, it don't really matter to me one way or another, 'cept if it is a worthy cause and stuff I should really tell my wife. She's... into that sort of thing.
VARDAMAN
Into?
FULLER
You know, real pally and shit.
ZAERES
(smiling)
Tell me, Denereise. Are you a worthy cause?
CORALINE
(She snorts with laughter)
Fuck me.
VARDAMAN
(He grunts)
I dunno how worthy this is, but there's an angel involved.
CORALINE
Oh, no, no, no...
VARDAMAN
(surprised, but somewhat pleased by this reaction in spite of himself)
That was my thinking too. So I let this crazy person I know take her shopping. We'll see if there's still an angel involved after they're done.
Anyway, Fuller, go on and get your righteous lass. She should meet our dear... cause and decide for herself, I think.
FULLER
(he shrugs)
All the same to me.
He heads out back.
CORALINE
Crazy person?

Crown

AERYIN
(laughing)
Fuller, you look ridiculous. Why in the hells are you wearing that stupid crown?
He flourishes it.
FULLER
Oh, it's perfectly cunning.
CORALINE
Like a knitted stocking cap from your mum?
AERYIN
He would wear one of those far more proudly.
FULLER
You know I would.

Dead Fuller

There was a fight. Fuller got killed.
CORALINE
You know, this sort of thing is exactly why I like to avoid fights.
(she winces)
Sorry. That's a pretty stupid thing to say now, isn't it?
Aeryin glares at her.
ZAERES
I could raise him as a zombie if you'd like. You'd get to keep all of his good looks and charm, but without any of that troublesome soul business.
AERYIN
(furious)
Why... you... How dare you!
Ariel places a hand on Aeryin's arm, but looks off into the distance.
ARIEL
So according to the liquids guy, who isn't the bear soup fellow, there's three things you need for a resurrection: a soul, some kind of component, and... and...
(she stops, trying to remember)
Glue?
CORALINE
I think Zaeres said the soul was the glue, Ariel.
ARIEL
What, no, I said that. I wanted glue because I was trying to make some tape.
(she shakes her head)
Nevermind.
AERYIN
Vardaman, is there nothing you can do? Plead to your Lord for his return? A resurrection...
VARDAMAN
You know it's not done, least of all by us.
ARIEL
You did it for me, didn't you? Not that it worked, but... still."
(Her eyes narrow in accusation)
And you spoke to her! What did she say?
VARDAMAN
Just some things that didn't make a whole lot of sense. Ariel, come here, will you?
ARIEL
(obliging)
Wot?
He draws her slightly away from the others and whispers something in her ear. A hushed discussion follows.
AERYIN
He's really dead. After everything, I couldn't protect him.
CORALINE
But you can't protect everyone all the time. Sometimes things happen. It's just life.
Aeryin closes her eyes. Nobody says anything for a bit.
CORALINE
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
Ariel runs back and starts to kneel over Fuller's body, then suddenly lies down on top of him. Vardaman comes back as well.
AERYIN
What...?
VARDAMAN
Ariel...
ARIEL
(in a whisper, her head on his chest)
Dreamer.
Suddenly Fuller stirs, and groans.
AERYIN
Fuller?! Fuller!
Ariel scrambles out of the way as Aeryin pushes to his side.
FULLER
(sitting up)
Aeryin, what...
They hug and kiss and crap.
VARDAMAN
(to Ariel)
Good job. Your first divine spell. You're clearly a cleric now.
ARIEL
Er. That... so... what happened was basically that... er... I prayed to Eapherod and she... did some stuff... and... sent me some magic and... interceded before Kyrule to get the soul of the dead into... er... this... what?
VARDAMAN
Basically.
ARIEL
Er. I think I'll stick to sorcery.
Vardaman snorts.
ZAERES
But I've seen resurrections before. They don't look like that. They're generally flashier, for one.
CORALINE
But why would you expect flashy from a god of dreams? In dreams everything is normal. It all fits. Even when there are suddenly tentacles everywhere, it all fits.
ARIEL
Tentacles!

Fancy last meal

CORALINE
So.
AERYIN
So.
CORALINE
So we're all here, at this nexus point, this turn of the story, this place where the plot thickens and congeals. And we're faced with an overwhelming question.
(she picks up a menu and flips it melodramatically)
What shall we have to eat?
FULLER
Important questions.
VARDAMAN
What about how we're planning to pay for this this? Anyone stop to think about that?
ZAERES
As I said, money is not an obstacle.
VARDAMAN
You said money isn't an obstacle, not that you'd spend it on us.
MYRR
(staring at her menu)
I do not understand this. These... courses. Does this mean we are to eat multiple... pieces?
(she looks up)
My apologies. You know I am not well accustomed to the matters of food.
FULLER
(jabbing a fork in Myrr's direction)
Remind me, why did we bring her?
Aeryin snorts.
VARDAMAN
Something about politeness and togetherness and propriety and crap.
(he shrugs)
Fuck if I know.
MYRR
So we are together?
VARDAMAN
(He grunts.)
Looks like it.
MYRR
If we are of common cause, then we are always together.
VARDAMAN
Sure.
A waiter appears behind her.
WAITER
(solemnly)
Are we ready to begin?
Vardaman shrugs again. A few of the others look uncertain. Zaeres looks around the table consideringly before finally settling his gaze on the waiter.
ZAERES
Yes. I believe we are.
CORALINE
Do you use real coconut milk? I only ask because we always had to use canned stuff back home and it was kind of... off. Funny aftertaste. Not at all like what you got in Singapore. And don't even get me started on the mangoes.
WAITER
We do not serve mangoes.
CORALINE
Of course you don't. There's no way you could get them this far north.

City of Death

CORALINE
I don't want to run anymore. I just want to stop. To stop. To stop letting everybody down, to stop ruining everything, to stop having to run because there's nothing else I can do, there's nothing else left! I can't take it anymore, and I know this is utterly selfish, but dammit, please, help me. Help me stop running.
KYRULE
From here, you can be saved. Push the curse back into the world, and you will be free.
CORALINE
That ain't freedom. That's just running. More running on top of everything else.
Kyrule says nothing.
CORALINE
Isn't there anything? Anything else?
KYRULE
There is... another possibility. A sacrifice. But it is not meant for you.
CORALINE
And why not?
KYRULE
You should go. Free yourself and go. Wait for your story to follow.
CORALINE
Is it because I'm Nelanor? Because I was the one who named you King? Is that it?
KYRULE
Go. It is not your concern.
CORALINE
It bloody well is. Tell me, Kyrule.
KYRULE
Are you asking as Nelanor?
CORALINE
What?
KYRULE
Free yourself and go, Nelanor of Kenning Vos.
He vanishes. Coraline stares at the spot where he had been.
CORALINE
(yelling after him)
Can't you at least tell me where the fuck my soul even is?!
There is no response. Swirls of dust drift across the street, a sphinx licks itself in a doorway, the river makes its strange creaking noises in the distance. A little ways down the street, a Lost walks into a lamppost.
CORALINE
Right. Fine.
She pulls out a bottle of brandy and took a swig.
BERTRAM
(behind her)
That's one way to avoid your problems.
CORALINE
What, you got a better idea?
BERTRAM
(He shrugs)
Do you know the name Shalias zu Harenai?
CORALINE
Aye.
BERTRAM
Her story, that of the Betrayer, is that to which Kyrule referred. Like you, Shalias carried the Death of Souls, and like you, she chose to fight it, though not in... quite the same way.
CORALINE
Yeah, but that's not really helpful here.
BERTRAM
Shalias found a way to end it, though this solution, too, was not the one you found.
CORALINE
So my ways are better all around, are they?
He raises an eyebrow.
CORALINE
Well, aside from the whole not working. Did hers? Work, I mean.
BERTRAM
She never carried it out. The price was too high, and she chose to save only herself instead, pushing the curse back into the world, where it has led to the destruction of thousands.
CORALINE
And that... is what Kyrule wants me to do? What she did?
BERTRAM
Shalias betrayed her faith and her obligation to the people she should have protected. You share no such obligation. These are not your people, and Kyrule is not your god.
CORALINE
Right. So what exactly was it? That she didn't do.
The Voice doesn't answer.
CORALINE
I assure you my intentions pursuing this are purely sexual in nature.
He doesn't respond to this either and they stand around awkwardly for a bit.
BERTRAM
Find the rest of your soul, Coraline Henderson. The gateway is in the ruins beneath the Amn.
CORALINE
What didn't Shalias do?
BERTRAM
There you must choose.
CORALINE
(giving up)
Choose what?
BERTRAM
Whether you will make the sacrifice, or save yourself.
CORALINE
(finally snapping)
For the love of all things shiny, what sacrifice?!

Fragments of a soul

It shifted in her hands - first a rock, then a mask, then a sword, then a length of chain. It knew no more what it was than what it was supposed to be, and yet it clearly wasn't anything more than an object. But nothing is more than an object, now is it?

"What is it?" she asked.

"An emblem." He gestured toward the pits. "A representation, if you will, of what has come to pass. Of what was lost."

She watched it for a time as it changed, never the same thing twice, though at times similar. It could not make up its mind, if it even had one, because it did not know. "It's the mystery," she said finally. "Ariel thought I was the mystery, but really it's this. It's him."

"So you see it," the dark figure said. "So it shall be."

And then she awoke.

Randomness

"I don't see it. This is madness."

World's Gate

When Coraline, Myyr, and Fuller passed through the World's Gate, it was not as an epic finale to their grand quest. There was no fanfare, no drama, no replay of history to beckon them down the same desperate paths as had claimed the lives of the heroes of yore. Instead, they stepped through to the Underworld quite undramatically, looked around uncertainly, and then made sure their radios were still working.

When the Gate closed, they made sure they were still still working.

Turned out they were.

"Hey, you never can never be quite sure with these things," Fuller whispered. "Can't trust this kind of magic."

Myrr gave him a look that said absolutely nothing. Coraline snorted.

They appeared to be on a street of sorts, though it was unlike any street any of them had seen before, simply a perfectly flat, straight length shaped into the sandy, dusty terrain. Behind them it ended at an impossible wall, too high to follow, and ahead it stretched through further lifeless hills and crannies until the sand gave way to city, a vastness that spanned the entire horizon, sprawling in shapes and forms. One broken tower soared above the rest, fading into the sky itself, but it seemed to only emphasise how jagged the rest were with its own irregular form.

It was clear that nobody out here had been expecting them. People, or what had once been people, loitered in the sand, but it was with such a listless air that they might as well have been sand themselves. Nobody was going anywhere. Some of the denizens glanced at them in passing, but few even saw them at all. It was questionable that most ever saw anything anymore.

"This is the sky under which you will end, Coraline Henderson," Myyr said. "I do not know when or how, but it is so."

"I don't want to hear that," Coraline said. The sky was like an abyss, black and swirled over with other shades of black, but it had no depth to it. It was just there. It made her feel sick.

"It's an abyss," Fuller said.

"How abysmal of it."

"Yeah."




The battle had spilled into the streets, though this high up the defenders definitely had the upper hand. Those skirmishes they ran into were small enough to walk around without any trouble.




Coraline propped up her staff and sighted down its length. "I see some folk out there. They look important. Think I could hit them from here?"

"Don't," Myrr said. "It's not our fight."

"It's a fight, though. Could be interesting to try." Fuller grinned, but it was clear his heart wasn't in it.

End of Dream

"Fuck," Ariel said, and shattered into dust.

The dreamer had died, and her dream died with her.




Coraline never exactly got the news. When there was no response from Vardaman and Ariel, it only confirmed what she already knew to be true.

They had lost.

The Between

Souls rising around. Swirls of light dancing upon ground and surface. Pools shimmering into the distances, spires rising from their waters. Depths falling into nothing. A feeling of a vast cavern, a vast space between places. A realm of transition, and of motion. No way in. No way out.

Voices fill the space. Of memories, of fragments. Lives too precious to let go. Voices that threaten, that plead, that question. Confusion and tulmult. Echoes and whispers and shouts of secrets and legends. The shout and the call and the reverberation of voices against the vastness.

It is not a real place, but it exists. Like the room. Like the garden. Like the city above. It is there, but not.

Those who live will never see it, and those who see it will not remember.

Or so everyone thought.

The kids looked up when they saw the newcomers approaching.

The souls within the soul, the place where they should be

Door

CORALINE
It's like a videogame... except if it were one I wouldn't be standing here in my undies.






DOOR
Oh, hello, welcome, welcome! If I'd known there was a lady coming I would have been able to give you a proper welcome.
He doesn't seem to notice her attire - or lack thereof.
CORALINE
Hi...
(she looks around)
Do you get a lot of visitors here?
DOOR
Oh, none. In fact I'm not sure there have been any at all. It's a very quiet place, this. I can hardly remember...
(he looks at her bemusedly)
You haven't seen a dog, by any chance?
CORALINE
Who are you?
DOOR
Oh, well, that's... you know, I don't quite recall. Doesn't matter, though. What good is a name, really?
CORALINE
Francis Door?
He flinches.
CORALINE
But this is a dream.

Avatar of the void

Coraline is in her tavern behind the bar. Toast is toasting in the kitchen. An overnight is drinking some tea, looking hung-over. This... hadn't been what she'd expected coming downstairs; for some reason she had expected a library... but she'd found a bar instead. Weren't they the same?
She looks back to the toast, to the archives, to make sure. When she looks back, the overnight is gone, replaced with a cloaked and hooded figure watching her from within its shadows.
She frowns, for that wasn't there before, then looks back toward the kitchen again. There is now a dog curled up in front of the fireplace.
CLOAKED FIGURE
This isn't you.


Party info

Party:

  • Ariel Sartorien (lunatic - mage/cleric/hunter)
  • Ense Vardaman (deathdealer - cleric/hunter)
  • Coraline Henderson (librarian - mage/sniper)
  • Lord Alores Severin Devres Agustine duSante Zaeres (mage)
  • Fuller Taeth (mercenary - warrior)
  • Aeryin Vals (guardian - cleric/warrior)
  • Myrr (angel - cleric)


Conversation handling:

  • Ariel: Atrocious, something about being nuts, tends to say all the wrong things if she's even paying attention at all
  • Vardaman: Good, but tends to say too much when drunk (and is usually drunk), also very jaded
  • Coraline: Decent, but clueless about the world and later drunk
  • Zaeres: Excellent right up until the point where he loses interest
  • Fuller: Questionable, though good at yelling/threatening
  • Aeryin: Decent, in the sense that she's actually sane and capable of carrying on a conversation
  • Myrr: Terrible, serious communication barriers

In the game, Fuller is listed as the party leader. So long as his wife is with him, he's not really the party leader. (Though here the leader proper would be Coraline.)
Vardaman or Aeryin often take point in anything involving talking to people, unless Ariel says something stupid first. She usually does.


Fights:

  • Ariel: *pokes it with a stick*
  • Vardaman: "Ugh, not again."
  • Coraline: *shoots it*
  • Zaeres: "I'll just stand over here and see what happens."
  • Fuller: "Attack everything! Attack!"
  • Aeryin: "Take point. I've got your back."
  • Myrr: "Is this our concern?"


Why don't Vardaman and Zaeres have any problems with each other? Deathdealers do not tolerate vampires, nor any undead, but especially vampires... not that Vardaman is at all typical of a deathdealer.

Fuller and Aeryin are married. It makes as little sense to them as to anyone else, and yet it works. Potentially too well at times - when you see them in battle it all falls into place.


Gods:

  • Ariel: Eapherod ("Is the Dreamer a god? I thought she was just a voice in my head.")
  • Vardaman: Kyrule ("Don't get me started on gods. Don't even.")
  • Coraline: n/a (*mutters something about foot fungus*)
  • Zaeres: n/a ("I make my own divinity.")
  • Fuller: Orin ("Huh?")
  • Aeryin: Orin ("What about them?")
  • Myrr: Kyrule ("I serve Kyrule, and act as his will upon the world.")


Alignments:

  • Ariel: Chaotic neutral (She's insane, but not necessarily good or evil. Just insane.)
  • Vardaman: Lawful neutral (The world is harsh. And so is he.)
  • Coraline: Neutral (Lawful about some things, chaotic about others. She generally means well, but her logical approach to overall problems often leads her to do things that others would consider to be quite cruel.)
  • Zaeres: Lawful evil (Usually a decent guy to be around unless you manage to tick him off. Won't help at all unless he likes you, though.)
  • Fuller: Neutral evil (He really likes to attack things. Doesn't have very good manners. Not sadistic or cruel, though, just belligerent.)
  • Aeryin: Neutral good (Too practical to be considered lawful in practice, though she usually leans toward it. Finds Fuller's antics to be more funny than anything else.)
  • Myrr: Lawful good (She's an angel and the right hand (or possibly wing) of a lawful deity.)

Vardaman and an angel

EXT. TOWN STREET - DAY
Vardaman is standing by a street watching folks go by. He looks bored and mildly irked, for whatever reason.
An angel in resplendent horror appears behind him (MYRR) and he turns quickly, starting to draw a sword. Then he sees it's an angel and stops, looking a bit confused.
VARDAMAN
Oh, uh...
MYRR
Be not afraid, mortal. I am Myrr of Souls, the Falcon of Kyrule, and I have come to offer you a task...
The angel stops, looking around. People are staring in varying states of awe, confusion, horror, and curiosity.
Vardaman now looks more than just mildly irked.
VARDAMAN
Will you put your fucking hood on?
MYRR
(pulling down her hood)
I am sorry. This was not meant to alarm, but it is easy to forget the ways of mortals.
This hides most of the horribleness.
VARDAMAN
Yeah, I can see that.
Suddenly Ariel jumps at them out of the growing crowd and starts waving some massive leeks in Vardaman's and, as soon as she notices, Myrr's faces.
ARIEL
(screaming)
I found CELERY!
VARDAMAN
(trying to push her away)
Um...
ARIEL
Celery! Celery!
RANDOM CROWD PERSON
But those are leeks...
VARDAMAN
(trying to hold Ariel away at arms' length)
Will you fucking...
(he suddenly decides to just ignore her instead)
Alright, Myrr. What is it?
ARIEL
Celery!
She smacks Vardaman in the face with a leek.
MYRR
It is a difficult matter, something not to be taken lightly. You should know that you have been chosen for your unwavering faith and strength in the midst of most difficult darkness, and this will be the truest test of your resolve to...
VARDAMAN
(interrupting)
Get to the point, will you?
ARIEL
(even more loudly than before)
CELERY!
The angel takes a step backwards, then adopts the exact same stance as before.
MYRR
It is a difficult matter, something not to be taken lightly. You should know that you have been chosen for your unwavering faith and strength in the midst of most difficult darkness, and this will be the truest test of your resolve to stand as Deathdealer.
Vardaman groans, but lets go of Ariel.
Ariel stops waving the leeks, looks at the angel, looks at Vardaman, and then looks back at the angel consideringly.
Meanwhile Myrr goes on at length. We don't really care so we'll just skip past that.
Most of the crowd realises it doesn't care either and wanders off while Vardaman and Ariel wait for Myrr to actually get to some sort of point.
Two hours later:
Ariel is leaning against Vardaman and drooling on his sleeve.
MYRR
You must find a wanderer, one not of these worlds, who has been cursed. You call it the Death of Souls, but though its very presence threatens to consume everything that is, this time it is different. This story mimics that of Shalias the Betrayer, and as Shalias, you will know the Carrier by her stance and by her fate, for she too will hold the golden coin. You will join her cause and aid her to the end, whatever it may be. This shall be your task. So it has been decreed.
Cue flashback to Vardaman and Coraline at some bar. They're both rather drunk by this point, just babbling about something utterly inane.
Vardaman stares at Myrr for a bit, then moves slightly. Ariel startles and then stares at him.
VARDAMAN
Do you people practice sounding cheesy?
ARIEL
(wiping off her face with a leek)
You know, that's the mystery. We need to save the mystery, you know. You promised.
She waves some leeks for emphasis.
VARDAMAN
Great. It's like it's all been fated to work out.
ARIEL
(beaming)
Oh, don't worry. My dreamer is way too incompetent to have planned this.
(mumbling)
Eapherod, on the other hand... no, she's not quite that on top of things either.
MYRR
(to Ariel)
Your mystery has placed you on this path for a reason, child. Do not waver, and the truth will shine through.
ARIEL
Yes, yes.
(she drops the leeks and tugs on Myrr's arm)
Let's go shopping.
MYRR
(moving toward Vardaman)
You will need guidance...
VARDAMAN
(backing away)
Oh, I think I know where to find her. You two have fun. Shopping.
ARIEL
Good fun! We'll get you a nice hat and a box of wangs and some shiny paint and everything. And maybe even some swords! And we could go all out and...
(she lowers her voice dramatically)
...get things like travelling supplies and foooood!
Vardaman gives them a small wave as he leaves, and Myrr relents and allows Ariel to tug her off back toward the market.

Meeting

INT. TAVERN
Coraline is at a table with a mug. Vardaman stands over her.
The barkeep gets up very, very slowly.
VARDAMAN
Karoliina Hämäläinen.
Varaman drops the deathgod's coin on the table in front of her, and then sits in the chair across.
Coraline startles and shrinks away from it.
VARDAMAN
(sliding the coin toward Coraline with a finger)
Don't lose it this time, will you?
Coraline stares at it and then glances uncertainly upwards at him.
CORALINE
I... what?
VARDAMAN
You swore the oaths and gave your name, and Kyrule took you as one of his own. Do you think he will forget you so easily now?
There is a long pause in which Coraline looks down at her drink. It's depressingly empty.
VARDAMAN
Why did you do it?
CORALINE
What?
VARDAMAN
You're a witch. Why become a Deathdealer?
CORALINE
I was drunk.
VARDAMAN
You're always drunk.
CORALINE
It seemed right?
Vardaman grunts.
CORALINE
(she sighs and shakes her head)
I shouldn't have, I know. I can't just take it back.
VARDAMAN
No.
CORALINE
Peledeska wanted you to take it back. She wanted you all... but she's gone now. Like none of it ever happened.
Vardaman gives her a worried look.
CORALINE
But it did! You can't just make something happened unhappen. Even if you remove it from all the worlds, eradicate all reference, destroy any indication that it ever was, it still happened.
You know I did it beause of Azorres. He told me a story that... well...
I don't know. I need to stay close. It's why I'm here. It's why I'm here at all. She made him what he is and now he's the only thing tying back to her and if there's any chance at all it's going to be through him. Adopted brother of an adopted sister?
(spitting the words)
It's all so perfect. Miten meni, noin niinku omasta mielestä?
Coraline collapses on the table, head in her arms.
Vardaman gives her a long look.
VARDAMAN
(finally, indicating the bar)
I'm going to go get a drink, and then we'll try this again, okay?
Coraline doesn't respond.
Vardaman grabs her mug and goes to talk to the barkeep.
The barkeep makes a sign of respect and bows slightly.
BARKEEP
Hail, Deathdealer. What can I get you?
VARDAMAN
(indicating Coraline and then plopping down the mug)
Refill for the idiot, and I'll take some of the same.
The barkeep gets him two shalotts and Vardaman brings them back, sliding one at Coraline, who hasn't moved since he left.
Vardaman sits and gives her a long look.
Finally he pokes her with the mug and she sits up a bit and takes it.
CORALINE
Oh... er, thanks.
VARDAMAN
You know you have an angel after you?
CORALINE
(tiredly)
Yes.
VARDAMAN
Great. Let's just deal with that.

More stuff

If he thought you'd gone on that oath, I wouldn't be here.

Right... well... That's not all there is to it.

It


I haven't slept in almost two months now.

Avatar of Eapherod

Coraline kneels before the statue, and an avatar shadow form appears and regards her.
SHADOW
The Nighmares of the lost are cold and empty, wayfarer.
CORALINE
The sweetest ones are never empty. They're just really, really convincing.
(she walks around the shadow, examining it carefully)
Who are you? You're not Grenth, obviously. Lyssa, perhaps?
The shadow doesn't respond.
CORALINE
Abaddon?
The shadow flickers slightly.
SHADOW
No.
CORALINE
You're her, aren't you? You're...
(she stops suddenly and glances back at Ariel, who isn't paying attention)
You're the Dreamer?
SHADOW
I dream, and the worlds dream.
CORALINE
But you don't recognise me?
The shadow doesn't respond to this.
CORALINE
Maybe I'm wrong.
Coraline pulls a small case out of her bag. Inside it is the mask-sunglasses, which she puts on the shadow.
CORALINE
It's perfect.
The shadow reaches up to touch the mask with a ghostly hand and then explodes.
The mask clatters to the floor.
CORALINE
Okay, not the reaction I was hoping for.
VARDAMAN
Really?
Coraline kneels again, grabbing the mask, and the shadow appears again as though nothing had happened.
CORALINE
Shadow of Eapherod, we seek your blessing, that you might aid us in our adventures.
SHADOW
And what do you offer, wayfarers?
CORALINE
Uh... hold on.
(she rifles through her bag and pulls out a small book)
A book of art from the collector's edition of Guild Wars Factions?
The shadow gives her a nod and takes the book.
SHADOW
This is acceptable. It will be guarded within the Dream.
CORALINE
Cool?
SHADOW
Go, then, in the shadow of the Dreamer. Your Nightmares will be sweeter than all.
The shadow vanishes and blessing effects happen.
CORALINE
Okay, not the reaction I was hoping for, either.
Coraline picks up the mask.
AERYIN
And what were you hoping for?
CORALINE
You know, I'm not really sure.
Coraline kneels again, and the shadow appears again.
SHADOW
You have your blessing. Why do you summon me again?
CORALINE
Uh... can I just keep giving you stuff to see what happens?
VARDAMAN
(disappointedly)
Really?
SHADOW
You may proceed.
VARDAMAN
(even more disappointedly)
Really?
Fuller, meanwhile, starts hitting on one of the shrine maidens.
Aeryin goes over to him and clears her throat loudly.
Fuller starts hitting on her instead, in exactly the same way.

Trap for a SOMETHING NOT GOOD

Coraline ties and hangs herself up from a tree by her ankles and sings Vittu Kun Vituttaa.
Villagers watch curiously, as does most of the party. Vardaman looks on in irritation. Ariel starts dancing partway through.
A black SOMETHING NOT GOOD coalesces out of the air in front of Coraline. She stops uncertainly.
CORALINE
Uh... hi?
SOMETHING NOT GOOD
It is almost as if you were a present, waiting for me!
Coraline leans back and raises a hand to start casting, but the something grabs her shirt, reaching through it, through her, tugging at the edges of her mind, poking, prying, trying to go through.
Coraline resists, trying to fight back, but it's all she can do to even slow it, even as it continues to pick at her mind, around her mind, into...
Around them, most of the people have been knocked down. Vardaman has been thrown back rather far.
VARDAMAN
(getting up)
Fucking shit! Coraline, fight it!
Coraline tries to fight, but she can feel her mind unravelling. So she just stops, instead, letting it in, letting it through.
The hole it punches is blinding, white, black, impossibly bright. It sears into her, burning from the inside out. It's her power, Kyrule's power, but molten, barbed, burning her away even more than the attempts to get in had done.
Coraline screams in agony, even as she does the things to do it all right back, leaning into the something, picking at its edges, shredding at its mind and soul to find the source of its power, to take it all right back.
The something tilts its head in confusion.
SOMETHING NOT GOOD
What are you...
Coraline punches through, tearing at it, seeking, drawing the power into herself, trying to fill the hole in her own, even as the burning, searing pain worsens exponentially.
Vardaman kills the something with his sword, and it all just stops. The pain remains, but now only an echo, a strange, gaping, empty wound, burning as an afterthought.
He cuts Coraline down a moment later, slicing through the ropes holding her up, and lowers her to the ground.
CORALINE
(mumbling)
Do it right back. They said do it right back.
Ow ow ow ow ow.
VARDAMAN
How hurt are you?
CORALINE
I'm fine. Fine. Don't worry about me. I just need... do it back. That wasn't the mammoth.
VARDAMAN
Rest. Let me help you.
CORALINE
(pushing at him a bit)
I'm fine.
VARDAMAN
I need you to step out of the world. Can you do that?
CORALINE
Out of the world...
VARDAMAN
Rest for a moment.
Coraline drifts off, slipping into the Grey Lobby.

INT. Grey Lobby
Coraline finds herself on a sofa. She scrunches up on it.
The Voice of Kyrule appears and stops in front of her.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Karoliina Hämäläinen.
CORALINE
(unscrunching a bit)
Yeah?
VOICE OF KYRULE
You now know what you did.
CORALINE
I...
Coraline stares at the Voice uncertainly.
The Voice disappears.
CORALINE
Well fuck you too.




CORALINE
Your god's an asshole.
Vardaman passes Coraline a drink.
CORALINE
The Voice told me I now know what I did. That's it. No support. Nothing at all to make it better...
Except I already did. I already knew that. I knew when I was doing it. I remembered exactly, even as I kept doing it, as I drew it out...
VARDAMAN
It had been used on you?
Why? Why do the same to someone else?



CORALINE
It was just a convenient way for them to keep me from fighting back while they raped me.
They didn't even kill me after. They didn't do anything. They just left me...
VARDAMAN
Keepers...
CORALINE
I don't know what happened after that. I just... I couldn't feel anything. I got up, and I killed them. All of them. And I couldn't feel anything. There was just nothing left anymore. I was on the roof - I guess I was just going to kill myself, too, finish the job - when Zaeres shows up with all of them in tow as zombies. He's nailed the instructor's note to their heads. And he says, "I've got a present for you, Deneriese."
And I look at them, and I don't understand, I think they've come back to get me all over again and freeze up in utter terror.
But they just kneel in front of me, and then he's behind me, between me and the edge, telling me they're mine now. Do what I want with them. They're mine.

CORALINE
People think he's the monster, but really it's me. He was like a child, and I was his little broken bird that he nursed back to health...

Misc

Obelisk

SOMEONE
Every town has an obelisk. Black stone pillar with a tapered top and a sort of hole or orb through it about two-thirds up, some marked, others not, they dot the landscape.
SOMEONE ELSE
What are they for?
SOMEONE
I don't know what they're for, we just put them up, marking the place. This place is real, this place is known. you know?


More heap or something

She gave him a look normally reserved for the criminally insane: utter fascination.

Random

Go on, then. You will find the keys to the cupboard behind he who reigns king of the sandcastle. Riddle? Sort of. But you'll see what I mean. Pass the gates, find the mongoose, and you shall see.

Notes on the Death of Souls

  • Contagion: Usually folks just die immediately as a result of contagion, as opposed to turning, hence relatively low spread
  • Spread by those who don't just die ('carriers') trying to eat their souls - hunger the result of trying to fill the resulting hole?


Early stages (0-3 days)
  • hunger
  • restlessness
  • fear
Intermediate (0-4 days)
  • insatiable, overwhelming hunger
  • loss of awareness
  • seeing things that aren't there
  • hearing voices
  • loss of ability to sleep
  • extreme twitchiness
  • eyes turn black
End (0-7 days)
  • utter madness
  • voices shouting
  • loss of soul/self
  • contagion
  • death


  • Longest recorded carrier lasted 11 weeks. Survived by application of soulbinding and devouring the souls of spirit forms. Succeeded in curing the infection from self; method used and current whereabouts unknown.
  • Longest recorded non-magical carrier lasted 13 days since initial infection.
  • Average lifespan for carriers: 5 days.


BOUNTY: Black soul gems (Carrier 'souls' turn black in soul gems). Bounty only allows one black soul gem at a time. Attempts to turn in more than two at a time result in no bounty, confiscation, and a black mark (to stave off practice of allowing infection for monetary gain)

Bounty put out as a result of sudden rash of outbreaks that occurred 2-3 years ago; rates are down again, but the disease/curse remains more common now than it used to be.


Carrying soul gems may help to prevent infection upon normal contact; use of soul gem upon Carrier death appears to reliably prevent the curse jumping to nearby hosts.

Upon carrier death, Death of Souls appears to have a ~20% chance of jumping to any nearby living creature of sufficient base soul type. Jumping to two from a single dead host has been observed/reported once.

The Book

The Heresy of the Betrayer - Introduction

"'Justice' is an illusion, a story told by those who need something understandable and concrete with which to comfort themselves. It applies in specific cases, and it works in various contexts, but it doesn't scale. When you look too closely, the illusion falls apart."

~ Karoliina Hämäläinen, On the Nature of Stable Societies

The simple story goes that Shalias zu Harenai, daughter of the then ruling house of Meloroth, betrayed her people and her God, and in her arrogance she fled, releasing the Death of Souls upon the worlds in order to escape her own punishment.

This is not the truth.



  • family from Melorath
  • grew up on cerris with brother and mother
  • little known about childhood
  • apparently went off and did stuff
  • ...
  • contracted death of souls
  • soulbinding and devouring souls of spirit forms
  • investigated binding for larger forms, to replace what seemed to be missing
  • Eventually traced the 'missing' to the between/passing/dealy/place
  • opened up a gate on the Amn
  • ...
  • needs strife, war.



The truth is that Shalias was no betrayer at all. Her faith, even tested, was stronger than we see in all the worlds. What she did was done with dangerous reason, and so we tell the simple story to guard not just our own selves, but Shalias herself.

But while the narrative must remain in place, this story leaves no room for the real story, which must also have its place, for without truth, what have we but nothing at all? What have we but masks, and lies, and dreams?

It is almost heresy to make this connection at all, but only in faith can we accept the reason, and tell the story as the story is. Guard this story, keep it hidden, but do not dare to destroy it.

- Harramont of Ammarand

Shalias?

The story of Shalias the Betrayer is often told with only one. But there were two of them. Twins. Shalias, who lived. Murias, who came before.

Shalias only became involved at all because she tried to save her brother.


Shalias chose to abandon her path. After everything, she chose to give up, to surrender, to put the Death of Souls back into the world.

Why? Why in the name of all things shiny would she do that?

Sections

  • incident - resurrection
  • incident - decision 1
  • incident - decision 2
  • incident - no decision
  • incident - fractured soul
  • The Betrayer
  • The first time
  • Ascension song
  • The Keepers
  • Apostate of stories
  • Peledeska
  • Defiant Hand
  • Deathdealer
  • The third world
  • Abomination



There is a notion of 'the first time'. Of something else that happened, and is no more. Events bleeding out, tinting the world as we know it and see it.

Something happened, and unhappened.

Eapherod broke the seals, severing the connections between these worlds and the third, the world that never was, that could not exist. The others stopped Her, but by then it was already too late, for the world itself began to unravel, setting in motion a chain of events that only ended much, much later, in what we now know only as the Exodus.

What we do not know is why. She never said.

(Written in the margin is "It was an accident!")



My name is Dalesong Anew. I am a librarian, and I am sworn to secrecy. This cannot work, and so I shall make anew. The apostasy of stories.

This Book shall be your creation. What you believe is up to you. What you do with it is up to you. These are the stories, kept secret now and forever, and yet here, in one place, they shall mingle and be known, put down to paper. A record, exact.

In each Lineage there is a Keeper, and another Keeper, and in each iteration the secrets are passed on, each to each. I do not believe in secrets. I do not believe in hiding. All things that are hold merit, all truths should thrive in the light. If there is danger in truth, if it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.

(Remember the Cold War? Everything was secrets and lies, and is was only what people knew, the more people who knew it, that prevented total devastation.)

But here I am also bound, bound to keep this secret. But I am a Librarian, and I put knowledge into the hands of the people.




Three stories stood out. The story of Shalias, the story of the 'first time', and the story of the dragon that did not seem quite to exist.

Shalias' was by far the most complicated, spanning a lifetime and more.

The 'first time' wasn't even really a story at all, more an idea that came up from time to time. It was clear that there was a story there, however, written between the lines, scoped in the space between events, but it was never approached directly.

The dragon felt far more familiar than it should.

Placeholders

I will stab you all with a giant tuna.

  • gaher - hmong (Kuv yuav nkaug koj tag nrho nrog ib tug loj heev tuna.)
  • soravia - slovenian (Vse vas bo zabodel z velikan tuna.)
  • deslau - malay (Saya akan menikam anda semua dengan tuna gergasi.)
  • abaeranoth - german (Ich werde euch alle mit einem riesigen Thunfisch zu erstechen.)
  • lesk - afrikaans (Ek sal julle almal steek met 'n reuse-tuna.)
  • Somehow. She really wasn't very, though she'd had enough practice to know to throw the bottle at the bad guys before running away.
  • Namely applying for the job at all.
  • It was unclear if this was due to the fact that she and her assistant had effective control over their entire food supply, or for other reasons. Or all of the above.
  • She'd basically sent out a group of level 2s against something that was at least level 10, probably more. She was a really horrible NPC quest giver.
  • Or not 'dancing lump', for that matter - as much as Coraline had loved to dance, it had never really done that much for her stamina. Or figure.
  • Wearing the mask on her sunglasses the way she was, she couldn't actually tell that far; it kind of restricted her vision a bit this way. The thing worked so much better with hairpins, but not having any with her she'd had to improvise.
  • Mostly some things about tomatoes and killer squash and the dangers of animated porridge.
  • Librarians tend to have a certain arsenal of special things they can do to protect a library. That's just how they are.
  • Because quoting T. S. Eliot is always helpful.
  • Which was nowhere.
  • Except some of the tourists. Some of them weren't so great.
  • They had actually almost named her Gandalf, but then thought better of it for some reason.