This/Survivors song/heap3

From Zaori



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Not actually a heap. Rather just the entire thing as one page.







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Survivor's Song: Introduction

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MIDNIGHT... BUT NOT
After. The Void. The Nothing. The universe of Arling Tor has been destroyed. Only sphinxes remain, 3.8 billion winged cat creatures, hungry, immortal, lost. They barely move, lingering, hovering, balling together, forming a nearly solid moon-sized sphere of roiling cat matter. They do not hurtle.
Gaze, sweetling, upon the sheer impossibility.
Instantiate. The centre of the sphere. A pocket, not of air, but of space. In it are two humans, or at least entities who had once been human. Bertram is in grey, dark and concealing, unchanged from his ancient role of Voice. Coraline is in blue, light and summery. They are the same. They are nothing alike. Together, they form something else entirely, but not. She is no longer the Hand.
Cat eyes stare at them from all sides. Cat noses crinkle. Cat butts flash.
They speak over the purring, too loud to hear, but to their ears, meaningless. "Good job," Bertram says.
A sphinx drops onto Coraline's head, seemingly unplanned, but impeccable, draping itself over her face like a deep cowl. Its eyes supersede her own. Together, they look like Batman, and together they glare at him unimpressedly.
"Really, I'm impressed," Bertram goes on. "I did not expect that when we destroyed the entire universe, this would happen."

Part 0: Present introductions

In the year 2028, by the Cerrisian calendar, the crown of Soravia fell, sending the kingdom into chaos and turmoil. Years pass. The ruling Houses struggle for power and influence, making alliances and sending their armies to march and engage in terrible battles. The devastation only spreads, with no end in sight.

But Soravia is large, and many areas remain almost unaffected.

But Soravia is small, and there is no escape within its shores.

Notes:

  1. Coraline is a librarian.
  2. The story is always told from perspective. Translations are built in, even gestures.
  3. A 'universe' is an artificial construct.
  4. Notes may provide context, but not meaning.
  5. Coraline Henderson is dead.
  6. Sisu.

Narrow Escape

EXT. Country road; Soravian wilderness - afternoon
A small Finnish woman with light brown hair, Coraline, is fleeing unseen hunters. She's in the autumn woods, leaves blowing down around her, sprites dancing in their trails. There's a road, though she cannot quite seem to decide whether to avoid it or stick to it. Behind her, the sound of horses and dogs and shouting men gains imminence. Slung across her back is an ornate golden staff with a large, stylised phoenix built into its end, with wings outstretched.
There is another chatter of voices, too, somewhere else, getting louder, but these are unfocused, uninterested, all around.
Everything has failed her. She is desperate, and has little hope, but still she runs, finally making up her mind to stick to the road, sprinting down its dirt pack with everything she has left, breathing hard, in and out, in and out. Every stride jolts through her bones.
She can feel her strength failing, but she tells herself, at each of the road markers, get to the next, get to the next, get to the next.
She doesn't stop.
Even as she unwillingly slows, and the world darkens, she does not stop.
Even as the dogs make the road, even as the horses clatter into hearing, even as the shouts become clear, she does not stop.


EXT. Soravian town - evening
It is earlier, a few days, still autumn. The town is full of soldiers, hanging around the bars, loitering on the streets, tenting on the outskirts. It is not quite an occupation, but almost.
Coraline hurries through, avoiding them but not. She needs a place to stay, food to eat.
She heads into an inn.


INT. Some inn - evening
It's crowded inside, more so than out, and smokey, and noisy, full of ash demons hovering about the ceiling supports.
Coraline heads over to the bar and finds the INNKEEPER.
CORALINE
Hey.
INNKEEPER
Get you something?
CORALINE
Meal and some vodka for the road... and I don't suppose there's any chance of a place to stay?
The innkeeper looks at her, surprised.
INNKEEPER
We're booked, obviously, but... you're travelling alone?
CORALINE
Yeah...
INNKEEPER
Hold on.
(he yells over his shoulder, toward the kitchen)
Gemma!
(he heads back, continuing)
Gemma, got a question...
He shuffles into the back room, leaving Coraline at the bar. Other bartenders bustle around in his stead.
Coraline looks around.
It's mostly soldiers in here, too. Their insignias are one of the noble houses. One of them squeezes past Coraline to talk to another guy at the bar, and she steps aside.
SOLDIER ANDRE
Hey, check this out.
Andre pulls out a small soulstone and sets it on the bar. It's perfectly black.
The other guy, ROB, reaches out to pick it up, but then recoils from the touch.
SOLDIER ROB
Agh, what is that?
SOLDIER ANDRE
Black soulstone. Was talking to the Deathdealer, and he gave it to me. You can use them to detect Carriers even before they turn...
Coraline is holding the soulstone in her hand, staring at it in utter fascination. Her eyes have gone completely black. The voices around her have risen to a roar in her head, drowning everything else out in black, even as the stone forms an impossible brightness in her mind. It's perfect. Safe. Necessary. Needed.
The voices rise to a scream.
The floor drops away beneath her, swirling in green.
A moment later, everything is normal again. Coraline is still holding the stone, her knuckles white. The inn's loudness is nothing more than the chatter of dozens of men all crammed inside one common space. Rob and Andre are staring at her.
Coraline forces herself to drop the stone and flees in utter terror, pushing into the crowd, darting through the tables, out onto the open street. Nobody really tries to stop her, not really knowing what's going on.
The stone bounces off the floor, once, and then stops, sitting still on the ground, gleaming.
SOLDIER ROB
What, does that mean...
Andre leans down and picks up the soulstone.
SOLDIER ANDRE
She was a Carrier. The Death of Souls.
The two soldiers exchange glances and hurry out after her.
The innkeeper comes over a moment later.
INNKEEPER
Yeah, my wife thinks we can...
(he realises Coraline's not there anymore)
Where'd she go?


EXT. Soravian town - night
Coraline walks quickly, trying not to draw attention, but still hurrying as much as she can as she squiggles down the cluttered streets, holding her staff low, looking around for anything to help, any way out.
She spots some horses, and manages to get over to them without anyone really noticing, and soon she's properly off, keeping the horse at a trot, whispering to it to be calm.


EXT. Clearing - morning
A few days have passed. Coraline is slowing now, letting the horse longer to rest, walking more along with it. She lets it graze now, as she lies down in the grass, staring up into the red-orange trees and bright blue sky above. There has been no sign of pursuit.
Clouds drift across the blue.
The wind shifts. The horse smells something, its nostrils twitching, ears following. Faint sounds drift in from the way they came. Clatter. Barking.
Dogs.
Coraline jumps up quickly, readjusts the tack, and mounts, hurrying the horse back into a trot.
She hurries now, pushing the horse harder than before, forcing herself to slow only from time to time, dismounting and walking quickly beside it. They pass through the woods covering good ground, vaguely downhill.
The horse slows further, stiffening, no longer getting up to speed, as the day goes on, and into the night, and morning.
The first time it trips, she heals it, placing a hand to the hurt leg and letting it mend, even as the voices rise around her.
The second time, she abandons it, continuing only on foot.


EXT. Country road - afternoon
Coraline is about to fall. She has been running too long. The rhythm in her stride is breaking down, her arms and legs no longer rising as they should. She is like the horse, but worse. She has less to trip over, though the road only barely stays beneath her feet as the trees around bounce crazily in her periphery.
The pursuers are all but drowned out by the voices.
It was a good go. A solid fight. She knows this. She accepts it.
She slows, and stops. Exhaustedly, she turns back the way she came, pulling her staff off over her head, planting her feet, fighting her trembling arms. She points it vaguely, levelling it back down the road, and waits.
Someone nudges her elbow, lightly, insistently. A young boy, NOLAN (8), is next to her.
Nolan takes her arm and pulls at her, unrelentingly, toward the side of the road, before wordlessly shoving her off down a side path.
Then he turns back toward the road, just as the pursuers round the bend, and steps toward them. They slow as they approach.
The dogs avoid Nolan entirely, shying away, stopping. They do not seem to like him at all.
The DEATHDEALER leading the group addresses Nolan.
DEATHDEALER
Where is she?
NOLAN
Who?
DEATHDEALER
The woman.
Nolan stares at the Deathdealer blankly.
DEATHDEALER
Have you seen her?
NOLAN
No.
DEATHDEALER
Nobody has come this way?
NOLAN
You should have sheep. Show me to your sheep.
The Deathdealer reins his horse away, looking down the road.
SOLDIER
What?
NOLAN
Those are sheep dogs.
SOLDIER
Dammit, kid, this is serious!
They hurry on around Nolan, continuing on.
As the clatter and barking dies down again, Nolan turns back down the path to the temple.


INT. Molstead temple - evening
Coraline opens the door slowly, peering inside, then stumbling in as the heavy door closes behind her.
The temple is still, lit dimly with late sunlight trickling in through some of the high windows and candles at the shrines to the many gods around the walls. At the far end, facing the door and the other shrines, is a single large STATUE OF AZORRES, who looks nothing like Ganesha, looking down on the space.
Some offerings are laid out at its base.
CORALINE
(quietly)
Hello?
STATUE OF AZORRES
Welcome, wayfarer, to this house of the gods. You have need of sanctuary, I suspect.
CORALINE
Yes, gods... yes. Are you Ganesha?
STATUE OF AZORRES
You will be safe here. My priests will provide a place to rest.
CORALINE
But the soldiers... they won't give up. They know what I am.
STATUE OF AZORRES
They will not take you from this house.
Two priests, DAVIS and CORMITH, come over and help Coraline toward one of the back doors.
CORMITH
Here, come with us.
DAVIS
We'll keep you hidden until they leave. It'll be fine. I'm Davis, and this is Cormith.
CORALINE
Lyra. Lyra Zidane.
DAVIS
All right, Lyra. You're among friends now.


INT. Molstead temple - night
The main room is empty now, aside from Nolan, who is lingering by one of the shrines, looking strangely at home.
The Deathdealer and some of the soldiers enter the temple. They pass Nolan by, not paying him heed.
DEATHDEALER
(approaching the statue purposefully)
Where is she, statue?
STATUE OF AZORRES
Who, dear Deathdealer?
DEATHDEALER
You know exactly who I mean. We have covered the village. This is the only place she could be. Where is she hiding?
STATUE OF AZORRES
And what do you intend to do should you find her?
DEATHDEALER
You know that too.
STATUE OF AZORRES
And you should know that no aspect of Azorres would ever aid you toward that end.
DEATHDEALER
She is a Carrier of the Death of Souls! She may look like a person now, but she is cursed, and you know what will happen if she goes free and finishes her transformation. That woman will break down into a mindless monster, devouring and destroying all souls in her path, and the curse will only spread.
Surely you must see reason. She must be destroyed, now, before it is too late.
STATUE OF AZORRES
She is under my protection.
DEATHDEALER
(starting toward the back door)
I will find her. I will dismantle you piece by piece if I must.
The statue's voice changes, becoming larger, stranger.
STATUE OF AZORRES
(quietly)
You would threaten a god in his own temple?
NOLAN
I think you should leave now.
The Deathdealer turns to regard Nolan.
NOLAN
(stepping out of the shadows)
Unless you wish to lose both life and soul in one slow, agonising process.
DEATHDEALER
Really?
NOLAN
Do you intend to try me, little man?
The Deathdealer (who is decidedly not little) and soldiers stare at Nolan.
Nolan stares impassively back, not blinking.
DEATHDEALER
You will be witnessed.
NOLAN
Okay.
The Deathdealer nods at the soldiers, and they all leave.
Nolan tilts his head slightly.
The Deathdealer draws his sword. On its blade, by the hilt, is a dark emblem of a skull and mask.
Nolan doesn't move.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Theramon sa Tgomi, stand down. If you will not listen to me, then listen to Kyrule, your own god, who has given me your name as proof. Stand down, and let this matter go. This Carrier you seek does not concern you.
The Deathdealer stops and relaxes, turning to regard the statue in surprise.
DEATHDEALER
I... understand. I will obey.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Tell your men she is dead, the matter handled before you even came. This is over.
The Deathdealer bows shakily and then very hastily leaves.
After, Nolan strolls over to the statue looking almost curious.
NOLAN
Interesting.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Very.

A day in the life

INT. Molstead Inn - morning
Coraline Dreams.
In the dream, you are running, fleeing. The sky hangs grey and low. The ground is dull and rocky, simply there. The wind is furtive and blustery, coming in wet bursts, whistling in the trees' leaves. It's going to rain.
A noise trickles out of the wet, a hint of warmth drifting around you. Trolls. They are hunting you. They have always been hunting you, and you don't remember any point in which they haven't been hunting you, and now they are getting closer. Dull leaves shift underfoot, muffling you footfalls, but it doesn't matter.
You trip. You fall. You are down, underground. A passage, a tall shaft above, open to the sky, shows little light from so far. The first raindrops fall wet and heavy, but only from time to time, only on one side, thrown by the wind above.
Down here, though, the walls are already wet. Seeping moisture hints at life within the ground, of strangeness, of alien forces silently at work, always changing. You cannot linger. You have to run. So you do, and the walls run with you. You run, and the walls change, widening the corridor, opening out into a grand cavern. Further on, jagged rock gives way to strange formations, pillars and columns, almost too precise, but right here, in front of you, is a car, some ancient Soviet model, poking its hood from the wall. It grins at you, all bumper and headlights, and says, "Whaddya know about that?"
"I'm sorry," you tell the car, "But I can't stop. I need to keep moving. The moment I stop, everything goes horribly wrong and the trolls find me, so I need to keep moving, okay?"
"I won't ask him," the car replies, withdrawing back into the wall.
That's good enough. But then you realise you're stopped.
The dream falls away.


The inn is a rustic preindustrial affair, wood and stone, but with glass panes and reasonably straight edges to its architecture. Coraline is sprawled on her bed in a back room. Her hair is a silvery white-blonde now, and considerably longer. A fluffy tortoiseshell CAT is on her face.
A bell is mounted on the wall nearby, attached to a contrapture leading back into the main room. A bottle of brandy is on her bedside table. Her phoenix staff is leaning against the wall, wings now folded. Books are piled up on shelves.
The voices are a disorganised chatter, roaring in the background.
Coraline shoves the cat off her head and then sits up, eyeing the cat confusedly.
The cat slides onto another pillow. There are a lot of pillows.
CORALINE
Mwaaagh?
The cat purrs.
CORALINE
Perkele. You're not one of mine. Who the crap are you, cat, and what are you doing in my bed?
The cat doesn't respond.
Coraline gets up and grabs the brandy, drinking some straight out of the bottle, and the voices die down to a murmur. Then she pulls on some proper clothes and heads into the kitchen.
The kitchen is empty, the stove cold. A few ash demons are floating over the wood, like little puffs of ash.
Coraline shoos the ash demons aside and grabs a chunk of bread.
CORALINE
Jess? Hello? Anyone here?
Another cat, THIMBLE, is sprawled at the base of the step into the tavern proper looking very angry, and Coraline steps over him without even paying attention.
The tavern proper is almost completely empty, the floor swept, the tables stacked (aside from one missing a leg and nailed to the ceiling as a rather peculiar hazard). The shutters are open, sunlight streaming in.
An ELVEN TOURIST is seated primly at the bar, patiently waiting.
Coraline hurries over to the elf and give him an uncertain look.
The elf eyes her curiously.
CORALINE
Uh, how long have you been waiting?
ELVEN TOURIST
Oh, not long, an hour or two.
CORALINE
Riiight. Sorry. Day gal should have been here, but apparently isn't...
Coraline heads back into the store room, and is back a moment later with a small cloth package in hand. She cuts off the ribbon and passes it to the elf.
ELVEN TOURIST
(opening the package)
Your day gal, does this happen often?
CORALINE
Not at all. But if it does, and there's noone here, just ring the bell to get me, will you? That's what it's for.
The elf pulls out a weird piece of bread, sniffs it deeply, and smiles serenely, closing his eyes.
CORALINE
I'ma go see if I can find her. Need anything else before I go?
The elf starts nibbling at the bread and shakes his head very slightly.
CORALINE
Right.
The tortoiseshell pads over as Coraline moves to head out, and she picks up the cat and hefts her at the elf.
CORALINE
Is this your cat?
The elf turns to look, and then shakes his head again, again very slightly.


EXT. Molstead - morning
It's a bright summer morning. The sky is mostly clear. Loud birds are everywhere, on the buildings, in the trees, being loud. Some townsfolk are out and about, doing townsfolk things.
Coraline holds up the cat like a sack of potatoes.
CORALINE
(to the cat)
Any of this yours? Hmm?
The cat hangs limply in her hands. This is decidedly un-catlike, and yet at the same time, incredibly catlike.
CORALINE
(irritably)
Great. Do you see Jess anywhere? She should be here by now.
CAT
Who?
Coraline lowers the cat and eyes her suspiciously, but then decides not to press the matter.


EXT. Molstead market square - slightly later morning
The market is a messy combination of open square with stalls and buildings around with shops, with folks pitching and buying and just passing through in a horrible mish-mash. The folks are mostly human, but a few elves and stuff are mixed in.
Coraline is still holding the cat, and now has a small HAMSTERY GUY following her very, very closely repeatedly asking her what day it is. She attempts to ignore him.
HAMSTERY GUY
What day is it?
The hamstery guy circles around to follow her from the other side, except now he's actually slightly in front of her.
Coraline attempts to refrain from punching him in the face with a cat.
HAMSTERY GUY
What day is it?
A blacksmith, BARNEY, spots Coraline from near the smithy and scoots over, holding a scabbarded sword, just as Coraline is about to shove the cat claws-first into the hamstery guy's face.
BARNEY
Lyra! I've got this sword. You know I've got this sword. It's got your name written all over it, and for the absolute steal of a price of five silver it's all yours, all yours!
He holds the sword up in her face.
CORALINE
(pushing the sword away with the cat)
Now, look, I really don't...
She's interrupted by the hamstery guy pushing Barney aside and getting in her face.
HAMSTERY GUY
What day is it?
CAT
(hissing)
The day you die.
The cat slides out of Coraline's hands and settles around her shoulders, instead.
Barney pulls the hamstery guy aside again in order to reclaim his rightful place in Coraline's face. The hamstery guy attempts to retaliate, and Barney elbows him in the throat.
Foiled, the hamstery guy sidles off to bother someone else.
BARNEY
Five silver. Once in a lifetime deal. Just five, and it's all yours!
Coraline glares at him with the full force of Finnish Death.
Barney smiles at her disarmingly.
CORALINE
If I wanted to buy a sword, I would have commissioned one and you know it.
Barney gives her his best crestfallen look. Coraline continues to glare at him.
The cat watches curiously from Coraline's shoulders.
BARNEY
(breaking into a wide smile)
Fine, take it as a gift, then. Made for you, perfectly balanced, utter steal!
Barney bustles around her and fastens the sword to her belt, then hops back and nods.
Coraline continues to glare at where he was for a moment, and then just looks confused.
CORALINE
What?
BARNEY
Aye, yes, that's the look. Utterly dashing, the lady wizard.
Before Coraline can respond, Barney backs away entirely with a weird swagger, not unlike that of a used car salesman, still nodding, and retreats back into a bunch of passersby.
CORALINE
What... just happened?
Her hand falls to the sword, which has somehow been added very neatly with another belt opposite her bag.
CAT
You got yourself a sword.
CORALINE
Thank you, Captain Obvious. You're real helpful, aren't you?
CAT
Meh.
Coraline heads over to some various folk to ask around about Jess, though nothing really comes of it. She buys some lunch while she's at it.
After, she heads off down the road.


EXT. Molstead road - late morning
CORALINE
All right, cat, what's your deal, anwyay?
CAT
Obviously I'm a cat.
CORALINE
One that speaks. And has a sense of sarcasm.
The cat doesn't respond.
CORALINE
Why show up out of the blue? You even planning to stick around? Or are you some kind of alien or something trying to suck out my brain juices?
CAT
I'm a witch's cat. I needed a witch, and you seemed witchy.
CORALINE
What, did something happen to your old witch?
The cat purrs.
CORALINE
You got a name, then?
The cat purrs some more.
CORALINE
Cat, I got five cats already and I call them all 'cat', so please, something a bit more specific would be nice.
The cat stretches out a leg and sticks a claw up Coraline's nose.
CAT
Maybe.
CORALINE
(removing the cat paw from her face)
Maybe?
CAT
I'm Agata.
CORALINE
Agata. Okay. Good. Do I look like a witch to you?
CAT
(purring)
They all think you're a wizard. It's the same thing, really.
CORALINE
(she sighs)
They also think I'm from Ord.


EXT. Eslinger farm - noonish
Coraline comes up the road to find one of Jess's sisters, TEMMIE, mending the fence. Temmie stops and waves upon seeing Coraline.
The voices are getting louder again now, but Coraline just ignores them.
The cat, AGATA, trots over and rubs against Temmie's legs.
TEMMIE
What brings you these ways?
CORALINE
Hey Temmie. Was Jess coming to work today?
TEMMIE
Oh, aye. She left same as usual, hours back. Why?
(confused)
Did she not... Lyra?
CORALINE
She was here and then she left?
TEMMIE
Er, yes.
CORALINE
Right. So clearly something happened between here and there and there and... I need a new brain.
Coraline turns and leaves without saying anything more, and Agata pounces after her.
TEMMIE
Hey, hey, wait!


INT. Molstead Temple - noonish
Coraline pulls the doors open rather forcefully, causing them to swing open to either side of her while she stands there dramatically. There is no sign of Jess.
Agata ambles inside and sits down in front of the main large statue of Azorres, peering up at it.
Coraline hops inside right as the doors are swinging closed again and nearly gets hit in the foot by one of them, and scoots up behind the cat.
Agata swishes her tail.
CORALINE
(getting out a bottle of vodka)
Hey statue.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Welcome back, wayfarer. How are you holding up?
CORALINE
Miserably. Like a miser. I'm miser-able.
STATUE OF AZORRES
It is a difficult burden you carry.
CORALINE
What else am I going to do with it, drop it?
(she takes a drink)
So I'm looking for Jess. She went missing somewhere between her parents' farm and actually showing up to work. Where would I be looking if I were looking where I ought to be looking?
STATUE OF AZORRES
You have your answer there. Follow the path between farm and town, and perhaps the clues will reveal themselves.
Coraline nods, but doesn't go, holding the bottle like a shield.
Agata peers up at her curiously.
CORALINE
(quietly)
And if I'm dying... what would I be doing to stop?
STATUE OF AZORRES
You're getting worse.
CORALINE
It's slight, but I can feel myself slipping more and more. I thought if I didn't use magic, maybe I'd be okay. It'd stop. But it's winning. Slowly it's winning.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Four thousand years and there has been no cure to the Death of Souls. You know it will not simply go away.
CORALINE
But what can I do?
STATUE OF AZORRES
Find Jess. One problem at a time.
AGATA
You're oddly intelligent, for a statue.
STATUE OF AZORRES
I will take that as a compliment, little one.
CORALINE
Cat, after some of the people I've dealt with, I'd say it's oddly intelligent for anything, really.
AGATA
I thought you were going to quit calling me 'cat'.
CORALINE
Dammit cat, I call all my cats 'cat'.
Agata peers up at Coraline imperiously.
Coraline narrows her eyes.
CORALINE
Sassmaster.
Agata closes her eyes contentedly.
Coraline scoops up Agata.
CORALINE
And seriously, thanks, statue. You're a wonderful replacement for a working brain.


EXT. Molstead outskirts - noonish
Coraline strolls back down the road with all the care of an angry zamboni, Agata padding ahead, oppressive heat and sunlight bearing down on the both of them. Some mushroom sprites bounce alongside the road, keeping pace until one of them suddenly bursts into flame, and the others scatter. Heat waves rise off the road. Bugs buzz in the trees.
Coraline is now much more drunk, and the voices practically silent, drowned out by the resulting fuzziness.
She stops at a bend and sights down a footpath heading into the trees through the mostly-empty bottle, using it like a telescope with the lid off, which is completely ineffective as she cannot actually see anything through the bottom. Some of the remaining vodka splashes on her face. She blinks, and dumps the rest on her head.
CORALINE
Damn. Alcohol is lovely in this heat.
AGATA
Smooth.
CORALINE
(indicating the trail)
There's some ruins out this way. Maybe... I dunno.
AGATA
Do you have any leads at all?
CORALINE
None whatsoever.
AGATA
Do you have anywhere you need to be?
CORALINE
Nope.
AGATA
Well.
CORALINE
Right.
They head down the path.


EXT. Elven ruins - early afternoon
The ruins are a large quasi-clearing in the woods, the only remainder of an ancient elven city. Mostly the white stone blocks and columns lie scattered throughout the ferns and grass, trees growing through and over them, with only the odd wall or pillar rising against the green, clusters of buildings now almost totally reclaimed by the forest. Only one building stands out as intact - a solitary Edifice, still sealed after all these centuries, and nearly untouched by storm or moss.
Coraline comes out on the path, looks around, climbs onto a particularly large white block, and glares out over the ruins.
An alarming amount of spider webs glare back at her from some of the trees on the far end.
CORALINE
(squinting unhelpfully)
...gogs?
A beige and gloopy PORRIDGE gloops past Agata on the ground, and she hisses at it.
Coraline hops down and heads over into the webby trees.


INT. Gog tunnels - afternoon
It's webby, and a bit messy. There's no real path at first, but then one seems to grow almost organically out of bits of web.
As Coraline and Agata progress, the webs get thicker.
At one point she sees a gog hanging off a bunch of webbing on a tree. It looks a bit like a large dog-sized spider, and appears to be asleep.
At another, she passes a tree with a large circular hole cut exactingly through the trunk, except the hole is almost as big as the trunk is, and the top of the tree is held up almost entirely by webbing. Through the hole is shoved a door.
She continues on, and the webs thicken. The trees are swathed in webbing, until everything is covered.
Ahead, the webs converge entirely, leaving only a single round tunnel, maybe a metre in diameter. At its entrance are two more gogs, also asleep.
Agata hops up onto Coraline's shoulders.
Coraline walks up and pokes one of them.
The poked gog startles and legs at the other gog, which also startles and legs back. They prod at each other a bit with legs and then slow, and then stop. After a moment they collapse back onto each other, vibrating.
Coraline scoots past them carefully into the hole and walk-crawls very awkwardly through it.
AGATA
(next to Coraline's ear)
I hope you know what you're doing.
CORALINE
I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, or what's going on. Gogs aren't... this isn't what they do.
AGATA
Looks like they did.
CORALINE
Mostly they're just an annoyance. Steal some sheep. Web over a door. That sort of thing.
AGATA
Mostly?
The tunnel abruptly ends, and Coraline spills out into an oddly circular chamber, completely bound in spun white webbing. The ceiling glows with diffused light. A couple of other circular tunnels are scattered about the walls. A weird sweet, sticky smell permeates the space.
It is completely empty, aside from the centre. In the centre is a solitary wooden door, standing upright without a frame or even hinges. It is in perfect shape. It has a knob.
Coraline stares at it blankly for a moment.
CORALINE
I don't even want to know.
She scoots very carefully around the edge of the chamber, keeping her back to the wall, watching the door carefully until she gets to the next tunnel.
AGATA
And yet you're continuing.
Coraline gives the door one last worried look before scooting into the new tunnel and hurrying away.


EXT. Gog clearing - afternoon
This tunnel opens up into a clearing that is much less webbed over, with only odd swaths netting down from branches, and a decent carpet underfoot. Old trees tower overhead. Afternoon sun trickles down in motes of dust. It is surprisingly cool.
Coraline is sobering up a bit as they come out, but the voices are still quiet.
Gogs are all over, mostly in groups of 3-10. The nearest group are gathered around a bunch of doors, all fairly beaten up. One of the gogs pokes a door with a stick, then drops the stick and starts jumping on the door in aggravation. Another pulls a door upright and then, along with two others, headbutts it.
Coraline watches curiously for a moment.
CORALINE
You know you need hinges, right?
The gogs all freeze exactly where they are: the ones with the doors, quite a few others just hanging out in the clearing, a large group doing some sort of choreographed march around the perimeter, and also a smaller group holding up paper signs around a very confused looking JESS.
A few of the gogs in the paper signs group are also holding sticks. One appears to have been in the process of poking Jess with its stick, but is frozen mid-poke.
JESS
(also not moving)
Lyra?
Coraline threads her way through the groups of gogs, trying not to run into too many, but they don't respond even when she does.
CORALINE
You okay? Kind of need you at the inn. We do have elves.
JESS
Um... yeah, mostly, I guess?
Jess pushes aside the stick uncertainly, and then pushes through the sign-gogs. The signs say things like 'door problem' and 'what knob' and 'show force??', and they are all very consistently upside down. She hurries over to Coraline and collapses into the older woman's arms, sobbing.
CORALINE
(patting Jess awkwardly on the shoulder a couple of times)
There, uh, there?
Jess takes a few minutes to calm down, during which Coraline slowly pulls/nudges her toward the edge of the clearing. In the meantime, the gogs around appear to do absolutely nothing.
JESS
They kept poking me. They seemed to really want me to help them with their doors. Except they couldn't explain very well. They just have signs and broken doors everywhere, and then they ran out of paper, and I don't even know. Lyra, what is going on?
CORALINE
They wanted help with the doors, apparently.
Coraline looks around at the motionless gogs. There seem to be fewer now.
CORALINE
We should probably get out of here. If they let us.
JESS
What did you do?
CORALINE
Uh...
AGATA
She mentioned hinges.
A nearby gog collapses.
Jess jumps, and winds up behind Coraline, clinging to her shoulder.
Coraline turns around, pulling Jess with her.
All the gogs that had been behind them are gone.
JESS
What? They're... They're...
CORALINE
Meh.
Coraline marches off into the woods in what she hopes is the general direction of the ruins, or at least town, and Jess follows closely, not letting go of Coraline's sleeve.


EXT. Molstead woods - afternoon
Coraline and Jess get back out into the open woods without too much trouble, but an odd stillness follows them. A disquieting quiet.
Coraline grumbles irritably and draws her sword, and Agata climbs around onto the opposite shoulder for a better perch. The name 'Lyra Zidane' is written down the blade in flowing patterns, with engraved leaves dancing out around it. The whole design comes across in surprisingly good taste.
JESS
What is it?
CORALINE
I don't want to alarm you, but I think we're being followed.
A bush shudders nearby.
CORALINE
Definitely being followed.
JESS
Run?
CORALINE
We don't even know who it is. Maybe it's someone who could tell us which way to run.
JESS
What?
AGATA
She means to say we're lost.
CORALINE
I would never say that. But if I would, well, yeah. We're lost.
(loudly)
Hello we need directions can you help us?
The trees rustle overhead, and leaves drift down.
A scuttling skitters in the underbrush around, over the hillocks, behind the trees.
The first few gogs appear, running toward them, and then gogs are pouring in from every direction, over the ground, covering it. The trees shake, and more gogs come down those, from all sides, all around, converging on Coraline and Jess.
Jess clings to Coraline.
The nearest gog bites at Coraline, and she stabs at it with the sword.
The gog bites at the sword instead, to no effect. The other gogs all just sort of stop.
Confused, the gog bites at it again, but this has no more effect than the first time.
The gog hops backwards several metres, and then all the other gogs start converging on it, streaming around the two women, grouping, building a heap, piling up, and up, and up, until they have all just sort of conglomerated into a big, quivering conglomerate.
A gog tumbles off the side and rolls away, only to scamper back to the pile and climb back on.
There is a very long, awkward pause as gog pile and humans face off. Coraline looks a bit creeped out. Jess just looks terrified, clinging to her.
Then Coraline lowers her sword very suddenly. Jess jumps.
CORALINE
Damn arm was getting tired.
(to the gog pile)
Hi. Gogs. Or whatever you call yourselves. Can you tell us which way to town?
There is a shuddering in the pile, and then one of the gogs in front hops forward slightly and pulls a stack of paper out of somewhere unspeakable.
It makes and holds up a sign. It reads, 'door problem'.
CORALINE
Really? We hadn't noticed.
The gog drops the paper and scribbles on another one, 'cannot into'.
CORALINE
(shaking her head)
No, this is not polandball.
This goes on for a bit, but it eventually unfolds, amidst many signs and drinks, that the door problem, specifically, is that the gogs cannot figure them out. As a result, the gogs have become obsessed with doors, stuck on how to get them open, how to get past them. So they kidnap humans, learn their language and how to write things down on paper to communicate, trying to get the humans to teach them how to door. But it doesn't work. The humans don't know what they mean, and then the gogs run out of paper. So then they need to break into humans' nests again, this time to get more paper. Except they can't, because doors are in the way, and they still can't get past them. They don't have the right appendages to use the knobs. They don't have the mass to just tear them off their hinges. Covering them with webbing does nothing. So they use other means. Throw Keith in through windows when they can. Tear the thatch off roofs and drop in when they can.
But inside are also doors.
CORALINE
So... door problem.
The gog holds up the 'door problem' sign in agreement. Or possibly a new 'door problem' sign. There are a whole lot of signs on the ground now.
The pile also quivers in agreement, or something.
CORALINE
Right. I'm really not sure how to help you with this.
The gog holds up a sign that says 'open door'.
Coraline sighs.
CORALINE
Which one of you is Keith?
A gog pries its way out of the pile and holds up a sign. The sign says only, 'Keith'.
CORALINE
Hi, Keith. What are you after when you get inside a... human nest?
Keith holds up a sign that says 'paper'.
CORALINE
Because you need paper for your signs. Of course you do. Look, we need to get back to town, but we'll send some, erm... specialists out here when we do, okay? They might be able to actually do something about your door problem. Or whatever it is your problem really is.
Coraline strafes around the pile to the side, and the entire pile rotates to face her. She backs away, and the pile stays put, watching with many, many eyes.
CORALINE
Great. Could you by any chance point us in the direction of town? Human nest nests?
A gog pries itself out of the pile and holds up a sign: 'show'.
Coraline gestures for it to lead the way, and they follow it back to the road, and then town.


EXT. Molstead Inn - evening
Coraline and Jess get back to the inn in the late evening, Coraline now carrying a snoring Agata under one arm. It's pleasantly cool, and several patrons are hanging around outside with mugs. They greet the women as they approach, but then go silent as they notice the gog.
CORALINE
It's a gog.
PATRON
Um.
The gog holds up a sign. It says, 'gog'. It's unclear where this came from.
CORALINE
See?
The inn's door is propped open, and Coraline tries to shoo the gog in, but then it just stops and pokes at the door. And then the door prop. And then the door some more.
CORALINE
(ushering Jess inside instead)
Yeah, let's just leave it at that.
(to the patrons)
It's friendly. Don't do anything stupid.


INT. Molstead Inn - evening
Inside is fairly busy. Folks are all about, filling the tables, standing around, drinking. DORS, the orcan bouncer, is tending bar. He waves at Coraline and Jess cheerfully as they come in, baring too many teeth.
Another cat, ARGUMENT OF HAGS, yowls from a shelf in welcome.
CORALINE
Right, I think we need food. And then we need to get you home. You good to work tomorrow?
Jess nods.
Coraline pushes a very drunk guy off a barstool and he wanders off, oblivious. Then she plonks Jess down on the stool in his place, and dumps Agata in her lap.
CORALINE
Stay.
Dors pours Jess a drink.
DORS
I expect you've had a day. How about some poses?
Coraline heads to the kitchen to get some food, and grabs her staff while she's at it.
When she gets back, plates in hand, phoenix staff slung over a shoulder, a small crowd has gathered around one of the tables.
Dors is striking ridiculous poses at Jess.
Coraline deposits the plates by Jess and goes to investigate the crowd.
The gog is on the table. Several guys are attempting to give it beer.
The gog holds up a sign that says 'inside'.
GUY
Yeah, put the beer inside. You drink it. You getting this?
(to the others)
Am I saying this right?
ANOTHER GUY
Sure, look, it seems to get it.
The gog drinks some beer.
Coraline backs away very quickly, grabs her plate, and leaves the inn entirely.


INT. Keller's place - evening
Coraline shows up to Keller's place, still shovelling food in her face, and pounds on the door with an elbow. This doesn't entirely work, so she stops eating and uses her fist instead.
A moment later, KIT, Keller's apprentice (he's about 12), answers the door, peering up at her curiously.
KIT
Need something?
CORALINE
Got a job, if you're interested.
KIT
Yeah?
KELLER, dressed in stereotypical wizard robes, swoops the door open entirely before Coraline can respond.
KELLER
Miss Zidane! So good to see you again. Do come in, come in!
He ushers Kit out of the way, and Coraline inside.
Having lost access to Kit, Coraline comes inside.
Inside is rather messy. There is a stuffed moose hanging from the ceiling. Scrolls and notes are scattered across every surface. An entire wall is covered by something that looks like an elaborate chemistry experiment. Stacks of books line the other walls.
Coraline eyes the books curiously.
KELLER
So what brings you out this way this fine day, hmm?
Coraline takes another bite of her food, still eyeing the books.
KELLER
Ah, yes, I suppose I have amassed quite the collection over the years, haven't I? If there's anything you'd like to borrow, I suppose I could part... for a small fee.
Coraline painfully drags herself away from the idea of books and gets back to what she actually came here for.
CORALINE
I actually...
(she notices the moose)
Is that a moose?
KIT
Wondered that myself. Not a sheep, though. Nolan checked.
KELLER
It certainly is.
CORALINE
Why?
Kit shrugs.
KELLER
Oh, you know. You need the right space.
CORALINE
Right. I actually need to borrow your apprentice.
KELLER
(disappointedly)
But I have so much to give!
CORALINE
Unless you want to investigate a bunch of possibly insane gogs?
Keller stares at her for a moment.
KELLER
I've got research. Very important research that I must attend to.
CORALINE
Of course. I wouldn't mean to ask you to do anything beneath your station.
Keller hastily flounces off into another room.
Kit raises an eyebrow.
KIT
Insane gogs?
CORALINE
Well, maybe. There's a bunch of them out past the ruins, at least. Maybe you lot can figure out what the hells their problem really is?
Overtly, they're having problems with doors. And paper. The thing I'm really not clear on is why. They're communicative, though. Sort of. They use a lot of paper signs.
KIT
Sounds like you want Nolan.
CORALINE
Hey, if Nolan can translate gog signs, great. But you'll still need to translate Nolan, and you'll probably want to bring a sword with you just to be safer...
KIT
And I'm sure we can find a use for overloud shrieking.
Coraline shrugs.
CORALINE
Out of curiosity, what would Keller be likely to charge for some of those books?
KIT
More than they're worth. They're just manuals, and half of them are completely wrong.
CORALINE
Damn.
Kit pulls one out of a pile and hands it to Coraline.
KIT
Here, this one's a good starting kit. Just take it. He won't even notice.
CORALINE
Er, thanks.


EXT. Molstead - evening
Coraline escorts Jess home later, dropping off her plate at the inn and decidedly not investigating the gog table, which has an even bigger crowd now.
Outside, the voices are almost completely drowned out by the clatter of insects. Almost.
Jess is much calmer now. She glances toward Coraline periodically as they go as though about to say something, but then doesn't.
Coraline either doesn't notice or doesn't care.
Finally they get out of the town proper and onto the environs road through the woods.
JESS
I wish I could be like you. Nothing ever stops you, does it?
Coraline gives Jess a confused look.
JESS
I just froze. I had no idea what to do, but then you showed up... thank you. Thank you.
Coraline nods.
CORALINE
You want to do something, you just do... something. It won't always help, you won't always know what it will do, but if you know that doing nothing won't get you out, then try something else and figure out what will.
I used to do that too. Freeze. Not know what to do, hope it would blow over and just fix itself. Especially with people. But you get practice. You learn. You realise everything follows the same patterns, you learn how to test it and continue from there.
(quietly)
I still sometimes have no idea, though, and I put it off, don't deal with it. It just gets worse in the meantime.
JESS
You talked to the gog.
CORALINE
I talk to a lot of things. But it's often not a bad place to start.
For some reason they continue past the turn off to the Eslinger farm.
JESS
I'd like to stop at the temple first.
CORALINE
Sure.


INT. Molstead Temple - late evening
Davis is lighting candles at the shrines as Jess and Coraline enter.
Jess goes to a few of the shrines and does shriney things.
Coraline wanders over to bother Davis, standing right behind him.
CORALINE
Bother.
DAVIS
Oh, hello.
Davis looks at Coraline expectantly.
CORALINE
...that was really all I had to say.
Davis gives her an amused look and moves onto the next shrine, and Coraline follows. This one is to Kyrule, the god of death. It features a thick stone disk, with a skull wearing an elaborate filigree mask carved in relief.
CORALINE
Does it ever seem strange to honour a god who is such an antithesis to your own? Azorres is life and compassion, Kyrule death and judgement. On one hand you have the pain and struggle and solace of trying to survive at all, and the other... cold finality. The ultimate failure that awaits us all.
DAVIS
Where is the antithesis? These things go together perfectly, each giving meaning to the other.
CORALINE
But aren't they at odds? That very meaning comes from the opposition.
Davis remains silent as he finishes lighting the candles, and turns to face her when he's done.
DAVIS
This opposition is how they come together.
Azorres' compassion tempers Kyrule's blade. But where compassion fails, where order breaks and the hells would reign free across the lands, we need that blade and all the ruthlesseness that backs it. The world is a question of scales, balanced between all: life and death, order and chaos, needs and desires. The gods reflect this, each one a piece of the balance, and so we honour all.
CORALINE
I guess I just don't much care for some of them.
DAVIS
You don't need to care for something to see the value.
CORALINE
Value, yes, but...
She sighs.
DAVIS
You can't fully hold the god responsible for the actions of his followers.
CORALINE
They've been very consistent.
DAVIS
Do you blame them? Would you earnestly prefer they not try to contain...
(he glances over at Jess; more quietly)
This? Though their means are merciless, would you prefer it spread?
CORALINE
Gods, no.
DAVIS
I'm so sorry. I didn't mean...
CORALINE
Davis. It's okay. You're right.
DAVIS
Kyrule doesn't want you dead. If he did, you would be, despite all our efforts. Trust in that?
Coraline shakes her head, smiling confusedly.
Davis winces and goes onto the next shrine.
Coraline plods over to the statue.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Have you considered what you will do from here?
CORALINE
Not really, no.
Here's a question for you. Would it be wrong to turn an entire civilisation of a sentient species of spiders into raging alcoholics?
STATUE OF AZORRES
Yes.
CORALINE
Oh.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Were you really considering this?
CORALINE
Not particularly, but if I don't do something soon I might not be able to stop it, either.
STATUE OF AZORRES
There is a distinction between causing something and failing to stop it.
CORALINE
There's also a distinction of I live here and have to deal with the consequences, whether it had anything to do with me or not.
Jess comes over to the statue as well, kneeling before it.
STATUE OF AZORRES
Rise, dear child. You will always find solace here.
JESS
Thank you, my Lord. Thank you for watching over me.
(she puts a cake with the other offerings)
You sent Lyra for me, didn't you?
STATUE OF AZORRES
I did.
CORALINE
Normally I'd argue, but... yeah.
(to the statue)
Why didn't you just tell me where she was?
STATUE OF AZORRES
I did not know. A god may see their faithful as existing within the world, and know them how they are, but this comes with no precise knowledge of location or status. I knew that she was alive and in need. I heard her prayers and sent you the only direction that made sense.

Gog handling

INT. Molstead inn - morning
It is morning. Coraline is in bed again, happily asleep, this time with no cat on her face, but two cats next to her. A soft, polite dingling rings through the room, and then stops.
CORALINE
Nnnrgh.
The polite dingling of the bell contrapture repeats, and Coraline suddenly realises what it is, attempts to get up, and falls out of bed.
CORALINE
(yelling from the floor)
Coming, give me a moment!



A few minutes later, she grumps into the tavern proper holding a bottle of whiskey, mostly dressed, staff and sword under an arm, holding another cloth package, looking like a very angry videogame character. Several cats watch her from the bar as she enters: Thimble and Argument of Hags, as well as TRESS, SCOFFLE, and ONPAHANVAANLAMPI. Thimble looks particularly angry today.
The spare gog has cocooned itself on the hazard table sticking out of the ceiling. An argument is happening outside the main door.
The elf is again sitting at the bar, waiting primly.
Coraline puts down her whiskey, drops her weapons on the floor, cuts the ribbon on the package, and passes it over to the elf as before, this time muttering a particularly choice string of finnish profanities.
The elf pulls out a piece of bread, sniffs it deeply, and smiles serenely, closing his eyes.
Coraline grabs her weapons again and grumps over to the door and tries to open it.
Coraline tries to open the door again.
Behind her, the gog reaches out and holds a sign off the hanging table. The sign says, 'rote system'.
Coraline kicks the door, mostly out of sheer annoyance.
JESS
(yelling from outside)
Lyra? You in there?
CORALINE
(yelling back)
Yeah, what's wrong with the door and why aren't you in here?!
Agata pads over and peers up at the gog.
AGATA
It's called a hangover.
KIT
(also yelling from outside)
Gogs webbed it over! Hold on, I'll get it off.
CORALINE
Kit? What... voi paska.
KIT
(outside)
Wind fire burn!
There's a FWOOMPH outside, and a moment later, JORA, the kids' young elven sword-nanny, opens the door and peers inside, sword out.
Jora nods and sheaths the sword.
Nolan (now 11, though he's hardly grown in the meantime) and ERRY, Kit's little sister (8), are also there.
Jess heads inside and then stops, staring at the gog on the table.
CORALINE
Just... ignore it. I don't know.
The gog holds out a sign that says, 'hangover'. The sign is right-side-up for a change.
CORALINE
Get it some coffee maybe?
Jess gives Coraline a confused look.
Coraline shrugs blankly.
KIT
So. Gogs?
CORALINE
Gogs.
Coraline picks up Agata and hangs the cat around her neck like a very warm, stuffy, purring scarf.


EXT. Elven ruins - morning
Erry runs out into the ruins first and climbs up a particularly upright chunk of wall. Nolan climbs after her not long after.
Kit, Jora, and Coraline all walk in like normal people.
Agata walks in a bit behind them, peering about.
KIT
I think I see where the gogs are.
CORALINE
Yup.


INT. Gog tunnels - morning
The tunnels are empty. There is no sign of any gogs actually in the area.
Coraline and the kids come to the tree with the hole cut through the trunk, and the door shoved in it.
CORALINE
So they did that.
KIT
I don't get it. What possible purpose could that serve?
ERRY
They didn't get that something has to actually hold up the tree. Or maybe they did?
Coraline shrugs.
Jora stalks ahead, listening for something.
NOLAN
We're coming.
They continue on, into the tunnels themselves, and come to the circular chamber with the solitary wooden door enshrined in the centre.
There's a rustle in the other tunnels.
Nolan strides up to the door and peers up at it.
Jora draws her sword.
Coraline readies her staff.
Nolan puts a hand on the doorknob.
A shiver whispers through the webbing around and overhead. The ceiling thrums.
Nolan turns the knob.
The walls tremble. Gogs poke out of the tunnel openings, peering in.
Nolan opens the door, swinging it open on missing hinges.
The vibrations in the webbing are almost constant, now, jarring, humming. Gogs climb over gogs, peering in, watching. A couple topple down into the room itself.
Behind the door is a space, empty, black, silent. Echoes drift outward, countering the hum around. Behind it is a rhythm, almost like a heartbeat.
Nolan closes the door.
Several more gogs tumble down to the floor.
NOLAN
I see.
The gogs all still around them. The vibrations cease. The humming quiets.
KIT
You do?
ERRY
In the darkness, silence waits. It's listening. It hears us, even now.
Agata pads around the door, peering at the back.
Nolan turns around slightly.
More gogs fall into the room, pushed out of the tunnels by gogs behind them.
Nolan holds up a sign. It says 'Door'.
Several dozen gogs all around them also hold up signs, which also say 'door'.
Nolan holds up another sign that says 'interminable darkness'.
A couple of gogs hold up signs saying 'talk' and 'signs' and 'alive'.
Nolan holds up a sign that says 'sheep'.
KIT
Well, that didn't last long.
There is a shuffling in the tunnels.
Some other gogs hold up signs saying 'open door' and 'darkness'.
AGATA
Oy, human. Open that door again.
Nolan holds up a sign that says 'a master'.
The gogs still and lower their signs.
Nolan turns and opens the door again.
The heartbeat reverberates against the dark. Echoes whisper.
Agata sniffs at the darkness, her ears back.
AGATA
Witch.
What do you see?
CORALINE
(coming a bit closer)
Darkness, and a door with no hinges or frame.
AGATA
Wizard, what about you?
KIT
(also coming over)
Concur with the witch?
AGATA
(shaking her head like an irate cat)
Close your eyes, both of you, and look properly.
CORALINE
Eh?
Regardless, they do.
At first nothing stands out, but then, without eyes, the doorway comes into focus. There is a frame, and beyond it, not darkness at all, but light. Humming. Pulsating.
The voices whisper strangely around, distorted. Something else lingers behind.
KIT
I see a frame.
CORALINE
It's bright. Alive. There's something... familiar...
Kit opens his eyes.
KIT
It hears us. Feels us.
Agata hisses.
ERRY
(shouting)
Close it, close it put it away get it away out out out of my head it's in my head it's... in...
Erry collapses behind them.
Jora hurries over to Erry.
Nolan shoves at the door, but it doesn't close.
KIT
I hear...
Kit starts to walk toward it, but Coraline knocks him down and shoots at the door with her staff. The first blast disappears into the dark, so she shoots the frame, instead, narrowing the blasts, intensifying the heat, making them resonate with the same energies as the frame itself.
The frame begins to unravel, and she finishes it, slicing it to pieces with the bladed wings.
The brightness fades. The voices return to normal.
Coraline opens her eyes.
The open doorway is gone. The strange hum is gone. Only a burnt, bent, gashed door remains on the ground, torn off its imaginary hinges.
Hundreds of gogs stare silently.
Nolan holds up a sign that says 'irrelevant'.
NOLAN
You don't need to open doors. You need paper and a purpose. I will teach you.
Nolan walks over to a seemingly random gog tunnel and stares at the gogs occupying it.
One of them holds up a sign uncertainly: 'forward'.
Coraline glances over to Agata, who simply sits watching.
CORALINE
What was that?
AGATA
A teaching moment.
Kit gets up, looking confused.
KIT
What? Erry?
JORA
She's alive, but unconscious.
Nolan continues to stare at the gogs in the tunnel. Slowly the gogs in it shuffle about, and then start to get out of the way. The gogs in the other tunnels, too, begin to disperse, pouring out into the chamber and scuttling after Nolan.
Nolan heads into the cleared tunnel.
JORA
Get your sister back to town.
Jora hurries after Nolan.
KIT
I suppose we can just let him do his thing.
Kit peers after them longingly.
CORALINE
Oh, just go. See what happens, blow everything up if you have to. I'll take care of your sister.
Kit runs off almost immediately.
Coraline kneels next to Erry and places a hand on her chest, using her healing senses to give the girl a proper go-over. Overall, she seems to be fine. There's a general sense of exhaustion and a bit of a darkness lingering in her mind, but no real sign of overt damage or anything particularly alien.
AGATA
Well, he clearly cares.
CORALINE
He's what, twelve? What do you expect?
(she picks up Erry)
Ugh, she's heavy.
AGATA
Or perhaps you're just weak.
CORALINE
I'm definitely weak. But she's also heavy. These are not exclusive things.
Coraline tries again, this time hoisting Erry across her shoulders in a fireman's carry.


INT. Molstead temple - late morning
Coraline pries the temple door open with a mostly free hand and sidles in.
Davis and Cormith are in a corner talking to their intern, KILBETH.
KILBETH
Are you sure about that?
DAVIS
Yes.
KILBETH
Are you sure you're sure?
Davis turns to look at Coraline pleadingly.
CORALINE
Cormith! You're a real healer, right? Could you give me a hand with this girl?
CORMITH
(hurrying over, looking relieved)
What seems to be the matter?
Coraline passes Erry over to Cormith, and he takes the girl, holding her much more gently than Coraline had been.
CORALINE
Something up in her headbrains. I didn't want to try anything for fear of making it worse.
Tai jotakin sinne päi.
CORMITH
I... see. I'll see what I can do.
(casting over Erry)
What brains?
Cormith carries Erry off into the next room.
CORALINE
Great. In the meantime I think I'm going to get myself reacquainted with your floor.
Coraline lies down heavily on the floor, sprawling across the stone.
CORALINE
(mumbling)
Hello, floor. You're a nice floor.
Davis looms overhead.
DAVIS
Are, um, are you all right?
Kilbeth looms from the other side.
Coraline lethargically holds up a thumb, and then tries to actually put it up relative to the rest of her hand, though it only sort of works due to the angle.
Agata climbs onto Coraline's chest and sits down, a paw very firmly on Coraline's boob.
CORALINE
(recoiling)
Agh, cat!
AGATA
She's fine.
CORALINE
Well, I was, back when I could actually breathe!
Davis picks up Agata.
Coraline very hastily gets up and then nearly falls over again immediately after, grabbing Davis' arm to stabilise herself.
DAVIS
(sounding very concerned)
Are you sure you're all right?
CORALINE
I'm just tired. And blood pressure.
(she takes Agata off him)
I'm fine. Nothing to be worried about. You know the gogs in the woods had a door to horrible black nothing? Because the gogs in the woods had a door that opened up to horrible black nothing. Is that normal?
DAVIS
There are stories of Gateways opening to other realms. Often the entities beyond them are less than friendly.
CORALINE
Sure, except this was a door. Like that one.
(she indicates a completely ordinary door to a back room)
Wooden. With a knob. It had a heartbeat.
I kind of maybe slightly sort of destroyed it.
DAVIS
The heartbeat or the door?
CORALINE
The... door.
Davis nods slowly.


EXT. Granny Höhrmann's place - noonish
Granny Höhrmann's place is a cottage on the other end of town. It is suitably rustic. It has extensive flower gardens. It has grass and a small tree growing on the roof. A goat is tied to a log.
Coraline wanders over and knocks on the front door, Agata slung under an arm.
There's no response.
Coraline heads around back. Agata hangs limply.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN is sitting under a tree with a cat on her lap. They appear to be having a staring contest.
Coraline walks over and stares at both of them for a bit.
CORALINE
(finally)
What are you doing?
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Arguing with my cat.
AGATA
Are you winning?
Granny Höhrmann looks up in surprise at Agata and squints a bit.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Mad Anna's cat, isn't it?
AGATA
Not anymore.
CORALINE
So you know each other?
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Knew Mad Anna.
CORALINE
What about her cat?
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Might be it.
CORALINE
She says I'm a witch.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Might be.
There's a long silence as Granny Hörmann goes back to staring at her cat.
CORALINE
So... who's winning the argument?
Granny Höhrmann frowns.
AGATA
Apparently the cat.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
What do you think, Samaritan?
Granny Höhrmann's cat, SAMARITAN, turns to regard Coraline and Agata.
SAMARITAN
(yawning)
What is it, then? What are your knacks?
CORALINE
My what, now?
SAMARITAN
You're a witch, you got knacks. What are you good at?
Coraline glances at Agata.
AGATA
Drinking, mostly.
CORALINE
Hitting things with heavy objects?
AGATA
While drinking.
CORALINE
Yes.
AGATA
Possibly hitting things with objects drinking out of.
CORALINE
I do that sometimes too.
AGATA
I'm not surprised.
CORALINE
Still want me for a witch?
AGATA
Will you stop carrying me like a pile of logs?
CORALINE
Maybe. Depends on your answer.
Granny Höhrmann bursts out laughing.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Oh, you two are perfect for each other. And here me and Samaritan just argue all the time, but you... you'll spend a lifetime cracking each other up.
There's an awkward silence.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
What's the matter? Spit it out.
Coraline puts down Agata.
Samaritan jumps off Granny Höhrmann's lap and the two cats sniff at each other.
CORALINE
Let's pretend I have much of a lifetime left. Is this where my magic is from? Do cats just... normally show up? What exactly are witches?
(quietly)
Will this... help?
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Witches are. You're born to it, to your knacks. What you do with it is up to you, but it is yours.
As for whether it'll help you or not, I rather think that'll be up to you.
Don't screw it up.
CORALINE
So it's a tool.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Exactly.
CORALINE
And I've got a cat who is also a tool.
AGATA
Appropriate, for you.
SAMARITAN
A cat and her witch, you're bound together. You'll share all your power and knowledge. You'll be allies whether you want to or not.
Samaritan stares at Agata.
AGATA
I chose her carefully.
Her knacks are... different. She can heal, and I bet we could kill. Anything.
Agata bares her teeth for a moment, and then it turns into a yawn. Samaritan yawns as well.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
(to Coraline)
And Anna was all about the fire, so you might find you've some skill with that, too, now.
CORALINE
And what about our snark? We get to share that, too?
Agata's voice resonates in Coraline's mind, like the constant voices around, but different.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Always.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agata? How... we just talk. And nobody else hears?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Mostly.
Coraline stares at the cats.
CORALINE
Perkele. I get all the worst and best things in my life. Horrid luck. Great luck.
Ghaaah.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
(nodding)
Sounds like life, that.
Go on and learn.
Granny Hörmann waves dismissively.


INT. Molstead Inn - afternoon
It is later. The elf has wandered off for the day, and the spare gog is likewise nowhere to be found. Coraline is doing inn-y things, setting up for the evening, coordinating with Jess. Tress rubs against her legs from time to time, almost tripping her occasionally.
Agata watches from a shelf.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agata?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Yes?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Are you okay with this? With me, what I am?
AGATA
(mind voice)
I knew. Soon as I smelled you, I knew. You're a Carrier, but there's more to you than that. You've got darkness in you, and secrets. But also sisu. What is sisu?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
It means a lot of things. In this case, I guess it might mean survival.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Yes. Your courage, your grit. Determination and focus, even against impossible odds. The hallmarks of a good witch. Sisukas.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I'm going to die. I may kill a lot of others, and worse, in the process.
AGATA
(mind voice)
And when that happens, I'll find another witch.
Coraline looks up from scooting out a table.
Agata peers down at her imperiously, purring, and closes her eyes.


Lace mask.svg
Survivor's Song: Introduction

(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...




(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...

Part 1: Initiate precursor events

Everybody is running from something. They may not know it, and they may not fear it, but still they run. Some even run from running itself.

And yet the bullet you're running from is almost never the one that hits you.

Notes:

  1. Not everything is translated from the original tongues.
  2. Everything is translated.
  3. Notes may provide meaning, but not context.
  4. Insert metaphor as indicated in the instructions.
  5. Small events gain traction. In time, they may demolish nations. Catch them as they start, and you may miss the true design.
  6. This is not a kids' story.

Tentacles

EXT. Tree overlooking the Molstead market - morning
Autumn leaves linger on the trees, blow down the streets, into corners, curling up in little whirlwinds. The market is bustling with autumnal bustle, especially as people prepare for the upcoming Harvest Festival. A stall is occupied entirely by gogs.
It is very autumn now.
Overlooking it all, among others, is a tree. Nolan is in it, watching, unnoticed.


EXT. Molstead Market - morning
On the ground, a BOUNTY HUNTER stands in a corner, watching, waiting. Townsfolk whisper, greeting him, avoiding him.
The town hamstery guy spots him and scuttles over.
HAMSTERY GUY
What time is it?
BOUNTY HUNTER
Quarter to five, I s'pose?
HAMSTERY GUY
(more insistently)
What time is it?
The hunter doesn't respond, and heads over toward the gog stall.
The hamstery guy follows the hunter, staring at him suspiciously.
The hunter continues to ignore the hamstery guy.
The hamstery guy makes an angry noise almost, but not entirely, unlike something that would come out of a hamster, and then, finally, sidles off to pester someone else.
The gog stall is full of gogs. Gogs are piled up on the table. Gogs are behind the table. Gogs are hanging off the top. Over half of them appear to be asleep. Stacks and rolls of paper are shoved in between them, and piled underneath.
A couple of gogs hold up signs, upside-down, as passerby approach, and hold them up toward the hunter as well. They say 'paper' and 'sale' and 'give'.
The hunter stops in front of them.
The gog with the 'paper' sign holds it up at him.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Are you... selling paper?
The gog holds up a sign that says 'sell paper'.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Is that a yes?
Another gog holds up a sign that says 'paper'.
BOUNTY HUNTER
So if I want this paper...
(he taps a pile of paper)
What?
A gog holds up a sign that says 'give'.
BOUNTY HUNTER
You'll give me the paper?
RANDOM PASSERBY
(helpfully)
You give them something, and then they give you paper.
The gogs hold up several more signs, mostly repeats of what they were already holding up.
The bounty hunter places a coin next to them.
A gog slides the coin under another gog.
Another gog entirely passes him a small stack of papers.


INT. Molstead inn - afternoon
The inn is set up for the evening. Some patrons are there, doing inn patron things, drinking and socialising. A group of travelling elves are in a corner, chatting. The table hazard sticking out of the ceiling has three gogs on it today, one of them dangling a sign off that says 'eels'.
Coraline is at a table with a glass of cider and a sketchbook, drawing cats: Tress loafing on the table in front of her, with Onpahanvaanlampi sitting on Tress. A book of magic and some other bits of paper are shoved off to the side.
The cook, MALLA, comes over.
MALLA
Lady Zidane, there's something dripping in one of the rooms upstairs.
CORALINE
(getting up)
Alright, I'll go stab the responsible.


INT. Molstead inn upstairs - afternoon
Coraline goes up to investigate, torch and staff weapon in hand, not really expecting to need either. Agata pads after her.
Something drips.
Coraline heads over to the indicated room and peers inside. It's a simple setup: bed, table, chair. On the floor next to the bed is a small puddle.
Another drop drips out of the ceiling and lands in the puddle with a small plop.
Coraline eyeballs the puddle, and then heads up to the attic.


INT. Molstead inn attic - afternoon
The attic is low and warm and full of things. There are a lot of boxes, and everything is covered in dust and bits of insulation. Some logs are shoved into a corner. A pile of shoes is piled up almost to the roof.
Coraline shines her torch about as they come up, hunching over to fit. Ash demons drift away from her torch.
Agata trots ahead, poking about.
They head toward the general area over room 2.
Coraline checks behind boxes as they go. Shadows jump away from her torch, a few hissing in irritation. Wintersday decorations sparkle sharply. A broken rocking chair throws jagged shadows. Crystalised beads of pitch glitter on the rafters. A well looms up out of the gloom, a bucket on a rope spilled next to it in a large puddle.
Coraline scoots up to the well and stares at it blankly.
Agata hops up on the edge and peers inside, and Coraline half-sits and leans over and peers inside as well, shining down the narrow beam of the torch.
There is no sign of the bottom.
Agata and Coraline exchange looks.
CORALINE
It's a well.
AGATA
Apparently.
CORALINE
In the attic.
AGATA
Yes.
CORALINE
I'm not hallucinating?
Coraline looks down the well again, but it just looks like a well, so then she makes a magelight, forming the spell in her mind. When it twinkles into being in her hand, she leans over the lip of the well again and drops it in, watching as it drifts a few dozen metres, illuminating the bricked walls, before hitting water and disappearing silently.
CORALINE
Huh.
AGATA
What do you see?
CORALINE
A well. And I'm not just being snarky, either. There was no sign of this below, even though it clearly is going... below.
AGATA
There was water.
CORALINE
Well, yes, and a bucket.
Coraline rights the bucket, and then sticks the end of the staff in the puddle and flash evaporates most of it into steam.
When she looks up, she finds a large TENTACLE MONSTER staring her down from across the well. It looks like a collapsed pile of tentacles covered in eyes.
Coraline points her staff at it, but shines her torch back down at the well just to be sure that's the same as it was. It is.
Coraline shines her torch back on the tentacle monster on the other side, which is also still there.
The tentacle monster blinks a long row of eyes, in sequence.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agata, verify I'm not hallucinating.
AGATA
(mind voice)
That's probably really there.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Okay. Good. I guess.
(to the tentacle monster)
Hi. I don't suppose you speak whatever this is?
The tentacle monster blinks another long row of eyes, also in sequence.
CORALINE
I don't suppose you speak? Perkele.
TENTACLE MONSTER
(in a voice not quite there, but also all around)
We speak.
CORALINE
(lowering her staff)
Oh, good. I was worried we'd have to try signs. Or worse.
TENTACLE MONSTER
(raising some tentacles)
We are fluent in multiple sign forms if that is what you require.
AGATA
She meant literal signs that you hold up. We have gogs that use those. Why are we speaking deslau?
TENTACLE MONSTER
It is the language.
AGATA
Maybe in Deslan. You're in Soravia, dumbarse. They speak Soravian here.
TENTACLE MONSTER
You appear to understand, and reciprocate.
CORALINE
We're special. Is this your well? Were you trying for somewhere else, maybe?
TENTACLE MONSTER
We were trying for sanctuary. Is this sanctuary?
CORALINE
Sure. I don't know.
Come on, then.
Coraline turns toward the door, hunching over again in order to avoid banging her head on the rafters, and gestures for the tentacle monster to follow.


INT. Molstead inn - late afternoon
The inn is getting a little busier now. Two kids, OLAF and EVERRUSCIAS, are playing swordfighting between the tables. Everruscias jumps on an unoccupied table, and slashes at Olaf.
Dors is watching from the bar, looking amused.
The gogs on the table hazard hold up signs saying 'hide force' and 'lower'.
Coraline comes down the stairs, followed by a cat and a now much more upright tentacle monster.
Nobody really notices it yet.
CORALINE
(yelling)
Oy! Get off the tables!
EVERRUSCIAS
(dodging a return attack)
But Dors said it was fine!
CORALINE
It is fine, right up until you break one! Then he breaks you.
Everruscias and Olaf look uncertainly at Dors.
Dors grins, with too many teeth.
Everruscias hastily jumps off the table.
Coraline heads over to Dors, the tentacle monster still following. The kids stare at it in wonderment. Conversation amongst the patrons winds down as they stop and stare at it as well. The elves eye it with particular interest, two of them even going so far as to get up.
CORALINE
So this...
(she glances at the tentacle monster uncertainly)
Whatever this is wants sanctuary.
Dors rubs his chin ponderously.
TENTACLE MONSTER
The Old Ones awaken. There is no escape in the held lands.
Everruscias comes over toward the tentacle monster and stops hesitantly nearby.
The tentacle monster blinks a long series of eyes at her down what might be its back.
DORS
Interesting language. Not one I know.
CORALINE
It's deslau, apparently. Isn't that from the other side of the planet?
DORS
Not bad, if it at least got the planet right.
CORALINE
Yeah, no kidding. Except that doesn't really help us much, since why would anyone around these parts know deslau?
AGATA
You mean besides us?
CORALINE
Bah.
(to the tentacle monster, in deslau)
Okay, so who are you, what are you, what exactly constitutes 'sanctuary', and are these 'Old Ones' likely to pose us any threat here?
TENTACLE MONSTER
We are lhjuathgn, all in one. Here there is escape, for these lands are not held.
CORALINE
So... that's a no?
TENTACLE MONSTER
Your time spans are infinitesimal.
Malla pops out of the kitchen and then stares at the tentacle monster in utter horror.
MALLA
(sinking to her knees)
What... gods, what...
CORALINE
(indicating the tentacle monster)
Found the thing causing the drip. I think.
Everruscias reaches out to poke the tentacle monster, and it reaches out a tentacle toward her. Finger and tentacle meet in the middle.
EVERRUSCIAS
Eeeee.
The elves, meanwhile, are chatting excitedly amongst themselves, in another language entirely.
DORS
An alien, probably from the outer planes. Not too unusual.
AGATA
Says an alien.
CORALINE
Pfft, we're all aliens.
(to the tentacle monster, in deslau)
Okay, so we can get you set up with a room, or stuff. Just... if you ever need to come up through a well again, please don't leave a puddle on the floor, okay? It's hard on the wood.
EVERRUSCIAS
Where did you learn to talk like that?
CORALINE
I'm a witch. It's a witch thing.
EVERRUSCIAS
No it isn't.
CORALINE
Are you a witch?
EVERRUSCIAS
...no.
CORALINE
Then how would you know it's not a witch thing?
TENTACLE MONSTER
A room would be acceptable.
CORALINE
Great. Okay.
ERIK MAYER, a son of one of the town's larger families, pops in.
ERIK MAYER
Hey, Lyra. We need the council.
CORALINE
Eh? But I've got a tentacle monster!
Erik stares at the tentacle monster for a moment in confusion before recovering himself.
ERIK MAYER
It... it's important. There's been an incident.
CORALINE
Ghah, fine.
(to the tentacle monster, in deslau)
This guy will get you set up.
(to Dors)
Get the lhjuathughah... tentacle... thing a room. I don't think it poses any threat or anything, unless it wants to. But we can sort that out later. Figure out some way for it to pay, I don't even care what.
(she picks up Agata and shoves the cat at Dors)
Use this cat to translate.
Dors takes Agata and Agata stares at him.
DORS
Will you translate?
AGATA
If I must.
Coraline hurries out after Erik.
Dors holds Agata out toward the tentacle monster.

Politics

INT. Mayer house - evening
The town council gathers in the Mayer sitting room. EDINE MAYER is hosting; others present include EVERTON JAMES, DAVIS, NARAN, MOIRA, GWYNNE ENORI, MERLIJN, Granny Höhrmann, and Coraline, who shows up last and covered in bits of insulation and cat hair.
The coffee table is set up for tea, with tea, coffee, and a proliferation of cakes laid out. Some of the teacups are weirdly small. Several half-completed craft projects are stowed against the wall. One of them is covered in eyeballs. A housemite peers down at the gathering from the top of another.
Davis is eating a cake.
Granny Höhrmann is sitting in a rocking chair in the corner with a cup of tea and Samaritan on her lap.
MERLIJN
Okay, finally, we're all here, mostly.
EDINE MAYER
So what's the big emergency all of a sudden, and now of all times? Half the folks couldn't even make it what with the festival.
Why are we being all hush-hush?
Coraline plonks down and starts mixing the Cerrisian equivalent of Irish coffee, pulling an entire bottle of whiskey out of her pocket.
CORALINE
It's not the tentacle monster, I can tell you that much.
EDINE MAYER
What tentacle monster?
CORALINE
The one that crawled up out of a well in the inn's attic.
GWYNNE ENORI
What?
MERLIJN
There's been a murder.
EDINE MAYER
Now? Who? Who would do that?
MERLIJN
Yink. The... guy who keeps following people around asking them what time it is. Feldman found him in his shed. Throat was slit, and this was... there.
Merlijn holds up a black soulstone.
Coraline stares at it, suddenly forgetting the very hard coffee she was in the middle of tasting.
The voices rise and twirl about.
Most everyone else in the room also stares at it.
GWYNNE ENORI
Sonmi's eyes.
MOIRA
What does it mean?
CORALINE
(forcing herself to look away)
Yink wasn't a Carrier.
Some of the folks look confused. Davis and Granny Höhrmann look at Coraline possibly a bit too intently.
CORALINE
(gesturing with the whiskey)
That's a black soul gem. You get that when you try to capture the soul of a Carrier of the Death of Souls so it doesn't spread. Except Yink wasn't a Carrier. Whatever happened to him, that was something else.
GWYNNE ENORI
Right, been like that for years, Yink has.
EVERTON JAMES
What, you're saying whoever did this just left that there?
CORALINE
I dunno... maybe? He might have wanted to cover his tracks, or make it out like Yink was a Carrier even though... he wasn't...
(she shrugs blankly, trying not to look too freaked out)
I know Deathdealers often use these to track down Carriers in the first place, so if it was some sort of hunter, that would at least explain why he had it.
MOIRA
And there is a hunter in town. Rough-looking sort. Was watching the market all morning.
EVERTON JAMES
So what, he messed up?
NARAN
Do we care?
What? Might as well put it out there. Yink was nuts. Useless. Couldn't even help himself. We don't even know if he's happier dead.
DAVIS
(quietly)
That isn't our decision.
GWYNNE ENORI
But we don't have any Carriers, do we? Why is this guy here? What if he's right, even if not about Yink?
CORALINE
No, we'd know...
Except suddenly Coraline isn't so sure. Something feels off, the voices different. She shakes her head, trying to clear it.
MERLIJN
I find that unlikely.
(he sighs)
Not knowing the first thing about any of us, who do we expect this guy is gonna go after next?
GWYNNE ENORI
(horrified)
Oh gods! Nolan!
Gwynne runs out of the room.
EVERTON JAMES
So what, now he's gonna kill a kid? Where's the sense in that?
MERLIJN
What, you think it makes sense killing someone and leaving him in a guy's shed?
MOIRA
Wasn't Feldman's the one that got hit with that cow?
NARAN
Clearly it made sense to him.
EDINE MAYER
Of course it doesn't bloody make sense! What about the children? First Nolan, then who?
Coraline sighs and has at her coffee, which has mysteriously turned into whiskey, and proceeds to pay no attention whatsoever to the ensuing yell-fest.



Half an hour later, it's still going on, though Merlijn at least has since gone off to go do something useful. Coraline is completely drunk, just sort of sitting in a fuzzy stupor.
Edine yells stuff.
Davis yells stuff.
Naran says something in a completely normal tone of voice which is quickly drowned out by Everton yelling stuff.
The voices are silent.
Moira looks irked.
Coraline pours her some whiskey.
A bit later, Moira looks a bit less irked.
At some point Samaritan winds up on Coraline's lap, and Coraline strokes the cat's fur.
Granny Höhrmann rocks idly, knitting.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
(quietly)
Idiots, all of you.
Edine yells some more.
Everton yells at her.
Davis and Edine yell right back.
CORALINE
(to Samaritan)
I should do something, shouldn't I?
Samaritan purrs.
There is more yelling.
Coraline sets the cat aside, gets up, sets her whiskey on fire, and drops it on the coffee table.
The yelling takes a moment to stop, during which the coffee table gets well and truly on fire.
CORALINE
Oops.
Granny Höhrmann stands walks over to the coffee table with the deadly certainty of an iceberg, and holds a hand over it.
The fire goes out.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
(glaring at Coraline, mostly just because they're facing each other across the table, and then at everyone else, too)
There has been a murder. Doesn't matter who it was, doesn't matter now why. We assign a judiciary and we handle it.
Everyone just sort of stares at them. Some look decidedly embarrassed.
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Lyra, will you be our judiciary?
CORALINE
Whuh?
GRANNY HÖHRMANN
Get to the bottom of this. You know more about these matters than anyone here, so make your assessment and decide for us all.
(glancing about the room)
Lest there be more. Lest he find his Carrier whether there is one or not.
Nobody argues.
CORALINE
Right, okay.
(indicating Granny Höhrmann)
But if I wind up feeding this guy to a tentacle monster, blame her. And someone tell Merlijn we'll need the militia... something.
I need to go sober up after all of you.
Coraline rubs her head as she leaves.
Naran leans back, chuckling to himself.


INT. Molstead inn - night
It's later. The place is busy, with quite a few folks in from out of town and the outlying farms. The gog hazard ceiling table has an entire pile of gogs on it, plus two sort of hanging off it. Coraline is tending bar. Dors is making rounds ensuring nobody gets too rowdy, and striking poses at some of the patrons.
Neither tentacle monster nor elves are anywhere to be seen.
Coraline passes off another set of drinks to one of the waitresses.
PATRON
Could we get a refill over here?
CORALINE
Coming, coming.
Coraline fills a pitcher and passes it over, and adds a tick to the sheet under the bar.
Another guy, THOMAS, is standing at the bar when she looks up.
THOMAS
Hey Captain.
CORALINE
Yeah? What... don't call me that.
THOMAS
You're a captain.
The Commander sent me. We got the guy.
CORALINE
Oh! And I'm mostly coherent. What are the odds?
(she looks around at the rather busy inn)
I.. ghah.
(yelling)
Dors! Bar!
Coraline grabs Agata under an arm and shuffles out, grabbing her staff with her other hand.
Dors vaults over the bar to replace her, doing a flip over a somewhat startled patron.


INT. Militia house - night
The militia house is full of militia, who are all basically just random folks in bits of armour with swords and shovels and the odd bow and crossbow.
Merlijn greets Coraline as she and Thomas enter.
Thomas sort of salutes Merlijn.
THOMAS
Commander.
Merlijn nods at Thomas.
MERLIJN
(to Coraline)
He's in back. Davis says you're the judiciary?
CORALINE
Yeah, I don't know.
They head over toward the cells in the back. In one cell is a chair, and tied to it, the rather muscular, rough-looking bounty hunter. In the next cell is a small pile of weapons and armour.
Coraline gives him a dubious look.
CORALINE
I'm almost afraid to ask, but how, exactly, did you manage to capture this guy?
MERLIJN
Nolan dropped a rock on his head.
CORALINE
...of course he did.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Are you in charge?
CORALINE
Apparently. Who are you, why are you here, and why did you murder Yink von Jummerlund?
MILITIA GUY NORMAN
Er, Yink's name wasn't...
CORALINE
Shut up.
Coraline glares at the bounty hunter.
BOUNTY HUNTER
The name is Dalric. Dalic of Forst.
There's an empty pause while he looks at Coraline expectantly.
BOUNTY HUNTER
You might have heard of me.
CORALINE
Nope.
A few of the militia helpfully point out that they have.
BOUNTY HUNTER
I brought down the Tethremaine liche. I singlehandedly saved the Kingdom of Bourlenon. And now you're holding me here like some sort of petty criminal?
CORALINE
You murdered a guy. I think that means you are a petty criminal.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Hardly.
CORALINE
So you didn't murder the guy?
BOUNTY HUNTER
I am here for your protection! The threat he might have posed... you do not want to see that unleashed upon your village.
CORALINE
So... you did?
Coraline and the bounty hunter stare at each other for a bit.
Some of the militia shuffle about around them.
Agata belches, and Coraline drops the cat on the floor.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Do you really think you can hold me here?
CORALINE
Right now? Sure. You're surrounded by at least some sort-of-competent armed men, and you were brought down by an eleven-year-old with a rock, so for the moment, at least, could I ask you to please take this seriously? Pretend to take this seriously?
Merlijn coughs.
Coraline sighs and leans on her staff.
CORALINE
Did you kill the annoying hamster man who follows people around asking them what time it is?
BOUNTY HUNTER
I did.
CORALINE
Why?
AGATA
(peering back at Coraline)
Weren't you going to kill him at one point?
CORALINE
(rather unconvincingly)
No.
BOUNTY HUNTER
He was a Carrier of the Death of Souls.
CORALINE
No, he wasn't, and you know he wasn't.
BOUNTY HUNTER
The black soul was rather proof of that. Now if you'll please, I really should be going now.
The bounty hunter slips his bonds and starts to get up.
Coraline points her staff directly at him.
CORALINE
Sit down.
BOUNTY HUNTER
And what are you going to do with that?
CORALINE
I'll shoot you.
The bounty hunter gives her a curious look and sits back down.
CORALINE
Yink was not a Carrier. That gem did not come from him.
BOUNTY HUNTER
He showed all the signs. Voices, hunger, darkness. It was the early stages, but the transformation was imminent.
MERLIJN
Imminent? Yink's been like that for years.
MILITIA GUY DUSCHESK
After that thing up in the mountains. But he wouldn't talk about it. And then he wouldn't talk about anything.
MILITIA GUY GNARLY
Did we ever find out what happened? The witch... er, the other one looked into it, but...
CORALINE
(still looking at the bounty hunter)
Did you find a glowing soul gem in his things, by any chance?
MILITIA GUY GNARLY
In... oh, yeah, there were a whole bunch. I'll get it.
Gnarly scoots off toward the other cell.
Coraline watches the bounty hunter carefully while she waits, holding her staff steadily on him.
Agata washes her face with her paw.
BOUNTY HUNTER
You're the local witch?
CORALINE
One of them.
Gnarly comes back and holds out a small sack.
CORALINE
Open it.
Gnarly does so, and then dumps the contents on a nearby table. It's a pile of soulstones, several of which are glowing in prismatic pastel shades.
Coraline glances toward the table.
The bounty hunter jumps up.
Coraline shoots him, clipping one of the bars, hitting him in the leg.
The hunter falls over in front of the bars, suddenly at eye-level to Agata.
Agata doesn't move, peering at him curiously mid-paw-wipe.
MERLIJN
Lyra!
CORALINE
(to the bounty hunter)
How many people have you killed? How many times have you even been right?
BOUNTY HUNTER
(getting up)
Are you crazy, lady? What the fuck are you talking about?!
MERLIJN
Lyra, I really don't think you should be...
CORALINE
(going up to the bars, and setting the staff head against them)
Shut up. Those glowing soulgems, those are people killed, their souls trapped. Normal ones, not Carriers. In this world they would call that necromancy, and it is not used for anything good.
BOUNTY HUNTER
That's ridiculous! Those aren't... that's what soulstones are like!
AGATA
(mind voice)
He's a surprisingly bad liar. I'm surprised. Are you surprised?
CORALINE
Do you take me for a fool? I will give you one last opportunity to explain yourself, and I suggest you stop trying to lie to me.
BOUNTY HUNTER
(indignantly, to the rest of the militia)
Is this how you handle justice?
CORALINE
Leave them out of it. These men may be simple farmers and tradesmen, but they do what they can and fight to defend themselves, and are not your pawns to manipulate.
I am your judiciary. Answer my questions.
The militia remain silent. Some of the ones with crossbows raise them at the bounty hunter again.
BOUNTY HUNTER
And what guarantee of fairness am I supposed to get when one stupid bitch holds all the power?
AGATA
None whatsoever. Sucks, doesn't it?
CORALINE
Did you fill those soul gems?
There's a long pause.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Yes.
CORALINE
How?
BOUNTY HUNTER
Enchanted dagger. Stick them with it, it puts the spell on them for you.
CORALINE
Who were they?
BOUNTY HUNTER
Does it matter?
CORALINE
You tell me.
The bounty hunter doesn't respond.
AGATA
So why are you here, really? The rich bounties? The hot ladies? Bode?
The bounty hunter scoffs.
MERLIJN
Answer the question, hunter.
BOUNTY HUNTER
You're all going to die. When the Death of Souls comes, and it will come, you will be defenseless. Let me go, and I may forgive...
(he gives Coraline a pointed look)
...this and help you.
The militia start to look a bit worried and uncertain.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What do you think?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Dubious. If that were true, why not bring it up in the first place?
He's dangerous. Dangerous to you, and to others. Protect yourself.
CORALINE
Do you have anything to back that up?
The bounty hunter rolls his eyes.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Stupid bitch.
CORALINE
We have rather fuzzy rules on murder around here, seeing as it's not something that comes up very often, so you should know that right now, my decision is kind of teetering on one thing: how likely you are to do this again. And right now, I'm not liking your odds.
BOUNTY HUNTER
Then you should kill me now.
CORALINE
Oh?
BOUNTY HUNTER
I don't think you have it in you. All this talk, but you're not going to take a life, now are you? You have someone else actually do it, because...
CORALINE
No.
BOUNTY HUNTER
(he grins, shaking his head)
Because you're just like all these other simpletons, all high and mighty with your morals, but utterly weak like the woman that you are. Exile me and be done with it.
Something in Coraline snaps.
CORALINE
You are witnessed. You have killed our hamster man, and others too. You admit to it, and provide no defense for your actions.
By the right of the Molstead council, I am your judge in this life, as Kyrule will be in the next. May he weigh your soul fairly in the eyes of all gods.
BOUNTY HUNTER
(dismissively)
Please.
Coraline shoots him, this time in the chest, and he falls backwards, banging his head on the chair, collapsing in a heap.
Some of the militia act a bit surprised.
AGATA
You shouldn't doubt a witch.
MERLIJN
Damn. That's not how I would have handled it.
Coraline plonks the bottom of her staff down on the ground, hiding her own surprise that she'd seriously just done that.
CORALINE
How would you have?
MERLIJN
I... I don't know. I wouldn't have just... but a lot of other soldiers I knew would have done the same. The things you see...
CORALINE
I've seen a lot of things.
Look, I need a drink. Anyone else wants one, first round's on the house.
The militia perk up at this.
MERLIJN
Listen up, men. First thing's first...
Coraline hurries out while he directs them to deal with the mess. Her heart is beating entirely too quickly.


EXT. Tree overlooking Molstead - night
Nolan is up a different tree now. He watches as Coraline and her cat head back down the road, then looks down at an unexpected noise beneath the tree.
Jora is standing below, looking up at him.
JORA
Nolan.
Nolan stares at her.
JORA
Please come down. I know you have your reasons for being up there, but your parents are worried about you. Come down, eat dinner with them, sleep in your bed for a night, and come back in the morning.
Nolan considers this for a moment.
NOLAN
Okay.
Nolan drops out of the tree, landing right next to Jora, his nose about two inches away from her elbow.
Jora heads off and leads him back home.

Failed attempt

EXT. Soravian foothills - afternoon
Days pass. In the woods, the prevailing colour is brown, with hints of fire. Long shadows dance through falling leaves. Bare twiggage crowns the sky. Brown grass rustles in the breeze.
A bear-moose nibbles on some twigs and grass, poking around, foraging. It's brown.
The bear-moose looks up at a noise, and gets an arrow through an eye.
The bear-moose stands there for a bit, and then falls over.
Several soldiers in dark armour, which is, for some reason, not brown at all, run over to it and haul it off.


EXT. Temporary camp; Soravian foothills - afternoon
More soldiers are all about, waiting around, horses resting, equipment dropped to the ground. The bear-moose is stowed with the other supplies. The men speak in hushed voices; others stand silent.
Amidst this, two priests, DORANIS and EDRIC, are speaking in perfectly normal tones.
DORANIS
This is a bad idea. Have I mentioned this?
EDRIC
Yes. You've said.
DORANIS
Well, it's a bad idea.
Edric sighs.
DORANIS
I just want this to be absolutely clear that it's a bad idea for when it all kills us. Because it's probably going to kill us.
EDRIC
Have faith.
DORANIS
Oh, I do. I also think this is a terrible idea and we're going to die. That's all.
NURUNN, the Deathdealer leading the operation, comes up behind them.
NURUNN
Enough. You're helping nothing with this.
DORANIS
Okay. But if this kills us and we all wind up dead, or worse! This may have turned out to have been my last chance to be right.
Nurunn gives Doranis a flat look.
Doranis raises an eyebrow.
DORANIS
I mean, if our souls get eaten, this really could be it. I'm just saying.
Nurunn sighs.
There is a horn call in the distance.
NURUNN
(announcing to the camp at large)
We're up.
The soldiers around erupt into activity, picking up their gear, mounting their horses. A SCOUT rides in a bit later, heading straight to Nurunn and the two priests.
SCOUT
We've got the Carrier pinned, sir. Party standing by.
NURUNN
Good. Take us there.
The scout takes point as guide, leading the main group out, with Nurunn and the two priests right behind him.


EXT. Soravian foothills - afternoon
The CARRIER is a balding man with a scruffy beard and matted salt and pepper hair, pinned against the base of a tree behind him by a spiked net hooked into the wood. He struggles vaguely, but makes no particular moves to escape. He is filthy, and smells of filth. His eyes are pure black.
Several soldiers hold crossbows on him, and several others stand ready nearby. They part as Nurunn and the priests approach, the soldiers following dismounting behind them.
The horses shy away, fretting uneasily.
The Carrier hisses and strains against the netting.
EDRIC
Keepers help us.
DORANIS
Well, he's really far gone.
NURUNN
Hopefully not too far.
Doranis nods and casts a soulbinding on the Carrier, forming intricate weavings with his fingers to shape the spell as patterns of light dance about them.
DORANIS
Guäïn abo.
The spell trickles over the Carrier like glimmers of heat.
Nurunn leans on the Carrier, pushing him back against the tree, an arm across the guy's dirty chest. His face is inches away from the Carrier's, and he studies it closely.
The Carrier doesn't seem to see him, and gibbers a bit.
NURUNN
Edric.
Edric passes Nurunn an amulet, which Nurunn presses to the Carrier's neck.
The Carrier stops struggling, falling back against the tree, and Nurunn fastens the amulet in place.
For a moment, the Carrier just sits there. His eyes clear slightly, bits of white showing around the edges.
Nurunn gets up.
DORANIS
That feels like something. Is it working?
Nurunn taps the side of the Carrier's head.
NURUNN
Anyone in there?
CARRIER
(startling)
What? Where am I?
NURUNN
You're safe. Can you tell me your name?
CARRIER
Kessel. Kessel of Trom.
(he pushes a bit against the net)
Why am I... I'm so hungry.
NURUNN
(getting up)
It's progress.
Edric hurries over, notebook in hand.
Almost as one, the horses bolt, several of those still ridden throwing their riders.
Nurunn looks around, hand on his sword.
The woods are silent. A soldier coughs, quietly.
CARRIER
(mumbling)
So hungry...
Something clinks and explodes out of the Carrier, black and shadowy, full of hunger and voices. Nurunn is sent flying, and bounces off a tree, collapsing in a heap.
DORANIS
Na!
Doranis throws up a ward, which forms an energy shield in front of him that flickers but holds as the darkness subsides.
Edric falls to his knees, clutching his head, as do several of the soldiers. Others just stand there, arms going limp at their sides, staring slack-jawed as their eyes change, darkening. A few collapse outright, dead.
A moment later it's gone. So is the Carrier, and several of the soldiers.
Nurunn gets up, drawing his sword with its dark emblem, taking quick stock of the situation. He casts quickly, raising his sword over the group.
NURUNN
(casting over everyone)
Guäïn adëaka käïkä.
He cuts down the turned men, efficiently moving from each to each. He stops in front of Doranis and snaps his fingers in the priest's face.
Doranis looks up to regard Nurunn, looking shocked.
DORANIS
You know I... was joking. I was joking.
NURUNN
I'm sorry.
Nurunn goes to Edric and kills him with a quick thrust into the back.
NURUNN
(calling out)
Guardians, reassemble! Those of you who remain, your mission is now more important than ever. We must refind this Kessel of Trom, and quickly.
And should you find any of your companions turned, do what you must.

Festival

EXT. Molstead market square - morning
It is lively and festive. People are setting up for the festival throughout the town and around, readying food, decorating, putting up stalls, and building up the foundation for an enormous bonfire in the centre of what would normally be the market square. Some gogs are getting in the way, holding signs. Children are running through it all, sometimes getting in the way, sometimes helping, sometimes tripping over gogs. Elven tourists mingle about in a few small clumps.
Coraline is seated on a stack of kegs, like an empress on her throne. It's even shaped a bit like a throne.
Agata is sitting on Coraline's lap.
Onpahanvaanlampi is sitting on Agata.
Coraline pets them both awkwardly, feeling oddly tense, not really paying attention to where one cat ends and the other begins.
Barney comes over and bows before Coraline and her keg throne.
BARNEY
My lady.
Coraline peers down at him imperiously, as do four cats.
Behind him, Keller strolls over toward the bonfire pile and throws a large fireball at it, setting it aflame.
KELLER
Fire!
And there was fire!
People around stop what they're doing and applaud. Coraline gives it a couple of polite claps as well, then picks up the two cats on her lap and jumps down off her keg throne.
BARNEY
Joining us now?
CORALINE
I think I'm gonna to head to bed, actually.
BARNEY
What? But it's not even noon.
CORALINE
Do you really think anyone's getting any sleep tonight?
BARNEY
Er, well, no.
CORALINE
Exactly. And I never actually went bed last night, so... yeah.


EXT. Elven ruins - afternoon
Kit, Jora, Erry, and Nolan march into the ruins, much like the previous time, but now with purpose, and geared up for an expedition. Kit has a whole bag of gear. Erry has a sack of food. Jora is heavily armed. Nolan is holding a stick, a thin branch whittled down to its core, straight and even.
Erry jumps up and climbs onto a rubble.
Kit ignores her, strolling on, taking the lead, and Erry jumps down and runs after to catch up.
Nolan examines some stones as they pass, making absolutely sure they're not sheep.
They stop in front of the Edifice, tall and white and gleaming, carved and adorned with flowing motifs, though the basic architecture is fairly simple. It seems to sparkle in the shadows.
They look at it, look some more, look around, look at it some more, and then look at each other.
Some fairies look at them curiously, peering around from behind the rocks.
ERRY
Can you open it?
JORA
They say nobody's been able to open the Edifice since the Exodus.
KIT
We'll be the first. And we have it. A mystery to unlock the mystery within. It will all be mine.
NOLAN
We have a stick.
(he holds up the stick for emphasis)
It needs runes.
Nolan pokes the door with the stick.
Nothing happens.
KIT
(motioning for Nolan to hand over the stick)
Here.
Nolan passes him the stick.
Kit holds it aloft like a wand and points it about in various arcane-looking motions, generally directed at the door.
Nothing continues to happen.
Kit pokes the door with the stick.
Nothing continues to continue to happen.
Erry makes a face.
NOLAN
Runes.
KIT
On the stick?
NOLAN
Yes?
JORA
What did it say in the book?
KIT
Didn't. It's secrets. Things in books aren't secrets, or they wouldn't be secrets anymore.
NOLAN
Runes.
KIT
All right, all right, which ones?
NOLAN
(counting off on his fingers)
Fish. Tree. Hunger. Chaos. Hazard.
KIT
Seriously?
Nolan turns slightly and stares at Kit intently.
Kit quickly looks away and scribbles the runes down the length of the stick.
Kit then, hesitantly, tries poking the Edifice door again with the stick.
The magic sealing the entryway bursts into brilliant sparkles, which quickly fade. With a click, the door unlatches and opens slightly.
NOLAN
Boom.
Erry tip-toes forward and pulls the door open the rest of the way, revealing a dusty mass of darkness.
JORA
(grabbing Erry by the hood of her jacket)
Hold up. Let your brother put a light on you first.
Kit casts magelights on everyone, starting with Erry and Jora.
KIT
Kiuen, kiuen, kiuen adëaka...
Jora lets go, Erry charges inside, and Jora draws her sword and marches in after.
Kit and Nolan exchange completely meaningless looks and head in as well.


INT. Edifice - afternoon
The entry chamber is grand but simple, with a high ceiling and dual staircases leading up to higher rooms. Doors lead to other rooms off to the sides. Elaborate light fixtures, emitting no light, hang from chains on the ceiling, aside from one smashed on the floor. An empty desk faces them. Dead plants and paintings line the walls, along with some disintegrating sofas and low tables. Stickers with ancient text and pictures are stuck to a few of them. A large pile of bones is heaped up against one of them, and dust coats every surface in little dunes, marred only by the girls' tracks.
Jora is standing at the base of the stairs, looking up, though she glances back as Kit and Nolan enter.
The door quietly booms shut behind them.
KIT
Erry?
Erry slides down a banister and lands in a dust-covered heap in from of him.
KIT
(disappointedly)
Oh.
JORA
Keep an eye on her. We don't know what we'll find, or if the place might try to fall down on us now that we're inside.
KIT
What'd you let her run in for?
NOLAN
Where are the sheep?
JORA
Why would there be sheep?
NOLAN
Kit said there might be sheep.
KIT
There might have been a lot of things. That was sort of the point.
Nolan frowns, looking about, and then fixates on the pile of bones.
NOLAN
(slowly)
Maybe... there are sheep in there.


EXT. Woods outside Molstead - darkness
Darkness. Everything is darkness. Shapes looming, careening, drifting in and about, but still, only darkness. The Carrier runs through it all, oblivious. It is only darkness, only everything, black and close, enveloping, consuming.
Sometimes there are lights, and the Carrier goes to them and puts them out, inviting them into the darkness, bringing them home.
Sometimes the shapes fade away. Movement stops, and he is alone, entirely alone in the quiet, the black, the whispers tickling the edges of the void. Then the shapes return, and the lights beckon, beckon, begging him onward.
Shapes.
Darkness.
Hunger.
Everything is hunger. The darkness is hunger, empty, necessary, comforting.
Something is out there now, and he fixates on it, feeling it calling to him with its silent delirious voice, so cold, so empty, so sweet and comforting, so hungry. It is so dark, so far, but so close, and his hunger pales in comparison. His darkness is too bright. He needs to find it, to join with it, before the darkness goes entirely...
White.
The Carrier runs on, onward through the woods, hungering, unseeing.


INT. Molstead Inn - evening
Coraline Dreams.
It is cold. You aren't anywhere in particular, just snowy fields, rural, vague. The snow is trampled, frosted. The cat is seated by your boots, and you're not moving either, but you need to be somewhere. You need to run, but the train isn't coming, and the wind is bitter, and it's getting dark already. You need to be out of here. The trolls are coming.
You spin around, but there is nothing there, only the wind, the voices whispering, drifting on the surface of the snow. It is cold, bitterly so, even trying to get in through your hat. You wrap your hood tighter around it.
"Is this Finland?" the cat asks.
"Huh?" you say.
"Seems cold," the cat notes. "And dark."
"I don't recall Captain Obvious being here," you say, peering around. What are you even doing here? You can't remember. The station is run-down, abandoned, the tracks covered in snow.
"Troll," the cat says.
It falls on you like a pile of bricks.


Coraline is lying in bed, covered in cats, staring at the ceiling, the voices rising around her. Outside is a general racket of music and singing, punctuated by cheering and explosions.
Something is very wrong.
A horrible noise squelches through the walls. Coraline starts to react, accidentally jostles a cat, and decides to just lie there instead.
CORALINE
Nrrrgh, cats.
AGATA
Yes, hello.
The horrible noise squelches some more, getting louder, rattling the ceiling.
CORALINE
What the hell is that?
Agata rumbles.
Tress sticks up a paw.
Argument of Hags slides off the windowsill.
None of them answer the question.
CORALINE
You all are useless, you know.
Coraline tries to slide out from under the cats and falls out of bed.
AGATA
At least we're not drunk.
CORALINE
Perkele, cat, that was your fault.
Coraline gets up and finds herself face to eyeballs with a tentacle monster.
CORALINE
Hi.
Did you know knocking is a thing? Also not coming in through walls?
That was you, right? There isn't something else in the walls. Right?
The tentacle monster blinks a long row of eyes at her in sequence.
TENTACLE MONSTER
We wish to partake of the polluted essences of fruit and flesh.
CORALINE
What.
TENTACLE MONSTER
There is an ongoing soiree.
Coraline gives the tentacle monster a blank look, and then starts pulling on some proper clothes right in front of it.
CORALINE
If you want to go to the festival, just... go? We've already got gogs, so I dunno how much weirder you could possibly be...
(she picks up a bottle of vodka and opens the door, indicating it with the vodka)
This is a door. In the future, please open it and go through it, as opposed to the wall. The gogs couldn't figure that out either, but it's really quite simple.
Ask Scoffle if you need help. Or any of the other cats.
TENTACLE MONSTER
This follows.
Coraline heads out, and the tentacle monster follows scuttlingly, raising itself slightly on an array of tentacles while simultaneously pulling itself along on others.


EXT. Molstead - evening
It is very noisy. The festivities have clearly been going on for awhile already. There is rubbish scattered about, and people who look like rubbish. Many are already quite drunk. Many are singing, and waving torches and fireworks. Some do not take well to the tentacle monster, avoiding it, staring, something screaming in surprise and disgust. Others do not even seem to notice. One guy gives it a bottle of shalott and claps it on what would have been a shoulder, were it a humanoid. Two elves who see this cheer it on excitedly.
Gogs run through with signs, some of them right-side-up. Kids run through as well, some also with signs, some following the gogs.
Coraline scoots over toward the slightly dismantled keg throne and starts contributing to the chaos.
The bonfire, for some reason, is bright green, shooting sparks up into the sky, where they swirl and die amidst the fireworks.


INT. Edifice - evening
Kit, Erry, and Jora explore the building thoroughly over the course of several hours, losing all track of time as they go. Erry opens everything. Jora clears each room they come to. After finding the one sheep bone in the pile (a rib), Nolan joins in, and helps open a few doors the others couldn't, fiddling at their locks, set into the walls as opposed to the doors themselves.
Much of it is offices, filing rooms, closets. Lots of desks, lots of papers, and stranger consoles too. The chairs are all broken, and not like anything they've seen. Kit sits down on the floor with some of the filing, casting spells to translate the ancient Torini script, and after the first few papers crumble in his hands, spells to preserve the paper as well, and reads with fascination what turn out to be little more than requisitions and reports, but which unlike anything he's ever dealt with.
Dead potted plants are everywhere. Nonfunctional light fixtures protrude from walls and hang from ceilings.
Erry and Nolan are standing in the entry chamber, facing a pair of large doors behind the staircases up. Something that looks suspiciously like a warning sign is plastered to one of them.
Erry is eating some cheese and moose on bread.
Nolan frowns at the doors.
KIT
(coming over)
According to the forms, they were trying to evacuate through here. But I haven't seen any signs of how. You?
NOLAN
In the basement.
ERRY
It's locked.
Jora comes over as well.
Nolan sticks a long wire into a hole and pushes a button by the door, and it pops open.
Erry pulls the door the rest of the way open and leans inside, illuminating a wide set of stairs down.
KIT
Well?
ERRY
I see... stairs.
Kit pulls her back by the hood and starts down in front of her.
ERRY
Oy.
The others follow after, Jora taking the lead again, sword out.


INT. Edifice basement - evening
The basement is completely unlike the upstairs. It's one large room, sectioned off by a half-height wall dividing it in two, a slit in the middle acting as a doorway to the other side. Several black screens are affixed to the half-wall, peering down on them like dead eyes. The floor and walls are bare stone, unadorned. Luggage and boxes and bags are heaped in piles, abandoned. Striped tape affixed to the floor partitions out boundaries and walkways.
There is a stale smell of not quite decomposition.
Their magelights cast jumping shadows between the piles. Kit and Jora just stop, staring.
Erry takes a few steps between the piles and pokes one uncertainly. It crumbles a bit, settling.
Nolan heads over to the slit.
Besides them, nothing moves.
JORA
In the Exodus, the elves left their homes too. Not all the cities had fair warning.
KIT
So they just left their stuff? For two thousand years? It was just... abandoned here?
JORA
A silent, sealed memorial.
Erry picks up a small stuffed moose and holds it uncertainly. Bits of fake fur fall off.
ERRY
This was someone's toy. Someone like me...?
She holds it up to eye level and stares at it, and then shrieks at it.
The moose doesn't respond.
Nolan stops in the doorway slit, and after a bit, the others pick their way over to him. Erry tucks the moose under an arm.
The other side of the half-wall has more luggage, piled up and shoved out of the way into corners even more unceremoniously. Other bits, too, smaller bits, seem to have been simply dropped on the floor and trampled.
Rising up out of all of it is a Gateway, a huge ring set into a base in the floor, propped up with clamps and stilts. Cables stream out of it, connecting to stacks of crates nearby, and a large crystal on top of the crates is connected to it as well with more cables.
Nolan goes over to the crystal and taps it a couple of times. Nothing happens.
NOLAN
(to Kit)
Can you turn it on?
KIT
Er, I don't know. Maybe?
Kit goes to investigate.
Nolan nods and goes to stand in front of the Gateway, looking up at it blankly, turning the sheep rib over in his fingers.
Erry pokes about the luggage in a sort of fearful fascination, gathering up small things and secreting them away with her food.
Jora strolls about, checking for hazards. She glances toward the Gateway uncertainly from time to time as she does.



(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...




(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...

Part 2: Implement split

It began with a promise. It began long before that. Each twist is prefaced by a choice. Each turn presents something new. You choose how to proceed, and sometimes you choose wrong. Sometimes the turn chooses for you. Sometimes the turn chooses wrong.

On a scale of one to invade Russia in the winter, how bad is your idea?

Notes:

  1. This is a children's story.
  2. Contradictions belie meaning.
  3. Shaping spells is flashy. The spells themselves need not be.
  4. The worlds are circular. You may repeat yourself.
  5. Things will become clearer as you go.

Pieces

INT. Edifice basement - night
After a few hours, much puttering about by Erry, and a long span in which Nolan does absolutely nothing besides staring at a wall, Kit gets the Gateway working, using the patterns built into it, redirecting the ancient flows so they resume. The magic is different now, not what it expects, but it's still magic, following similar rules. At last the crystal glows, and then the Gateway itself rumbles to life, components twisting against each other, other crystals in its frame lighting up. It settles into its new position, emitting a vague hum.
KIT
(stepping back)
Okay, I think that it's it.
Erry bursts out from a pile of luggage and runs over, Jora following more sedately.
ERRY
Where'll it go?
NOLAN
We could travel to sheep.
JORA
It's late. We should be getting back.
KIT
No! We must go on!
(leaning over the crystal again)
It has to be able to connect to another Gate, but I'm seeing connections to several possibilities. Two of them even seem to be on Cerris, so...
NOLAN
Good. Do that.
JORA
Are you certain...?
NOLAN
Yes.
Nolan takes Jora's arm and steers her back toward the stairs.
As they leave, none of the doors present any difficulty whatsoever in opening, allowing them out without trouble.
Even the main door to the building simply opens at a touch. Jora eyes it in surprise.
NOLAN
For emergencies.


EXT. Molstead Market square - night
Coraline wakes up on the ground, a bit sooty, with a headache and drying blood in her hair. She sits up dizzily, touches her head, and frowns at the blood that winds up on her hand. The voices are all around, but distorted. Echoing. She is still quite drunk.
At some point everything had gone horribly wrong.
There is no more singing, no more celebration. People are fled or holed up in buildings, or in some cases, dead in the streets. Gogs are clinging to the undersides of eaves like odd little bumps. The bonfire is small, now, but now other things are on fire - stalls, piles of kegs, some buildings. There are yells and screams, coming from no particular direction or apparent source.
A large group of townsfolk, as well as some soldiers in dark armour, are all standing around her, staring at her. Among them is also another man, far dirtier than the rest.
None of it makes sense.
Agata is sitting next to her, alert.
CORALINE
What... happened?
AGATA
I might worry about our audience first, if I were you.
CORALINE
(getting up)
What... they're...
AGATA
Carriers.
CORALINE
All of them?
AGATA
I'd suggest you do something before someone sees, but it's a bit late for that.
Coraline rocks her head from side to side, and a few of the Carriers follow with their own heads.
CORALINE
But what... what are they doing?
What are they waiting for?
The Carriers all just stare at Coraline, their eyes dark and hungry. She recognises quite a few of them.
AGATA
You, apparently.
Coraline approaches a nearer, familiar, Carrier uncertainly. It looks like Jess.
It is Jess.
Coraline stops and stares.
Jess falls to her knees in front of her, looking up at Coraline with glassy black eyes.
Around, heads turn to follow, though the Carriers make no other moves.
JESS
(in a flat whisper)
The black... it burns...
CORALINE
(almost sobbing in confusion)
What...?
JESS
So bright...
Something is drawing Coraline to Jess. A hunger is burning insider her. She wants the girl, wants to join her, to take her, to devour...
Coraline grasps Jess's head in her hands, gently, welcomingly, firmly, not even sure what she's doing.
There is darkness, now. All around, amidst the voices, covering the world. Part of her wants this, needs it.
It would be so easy.
CORALINE
No... no!
Coraline can feel the pain in Jess, the loss, the fear, the hunger. What she cannot feel is Jess. She tries to push it all away, tries to find Jess amidst the black, the hunger, the voices clamouring louder and louder around her, but there's just nothing. It's like nothing, like pushing on solid nothing, except the nothing is pushing right back.
Coraline panics and twists it about, turning the darkness in on itself.
Jess collapses in front of her, dead.
The darkness subsides, just a little, and the voices quiet more or less back to normal.
The Carriers around Coraline start moving toward her all at once, some shuffling vaguely, others rushing forward. One trips and falls on his face. A couple jump at her, grasping, pulling at her mind, and she knocks the first one aside, spinning away from another in armour.
The dirtiest Carrier reaches for her, wrapping her in his filthy embrace, and Coraline elbows him in the stomach. This has no useful effect whatsoever. Some dirt flakes off.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Do what you did before. Take his life and turn it out.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I don't even know what I did!
AGATA
(mind voice)
There is life and there is death. They are the same things. Turn them in on themselves.
Another Carrier grabs for Coraline again, holding her in place.
Something tears inside of Coraline. The voices shift, louder, duller, as the darkness rises once more, and she does it, she turns the life out, and the dirty Carrier lets go, falling on top of her. And the others, too, are all on her, holding, grasping, reaching, pulling, rending at her mind, at her...
A horrible noise squelches out of the ground, shaking some of the nearby buildings. It squelches further, and tentacles erupt from the ground, long and dark, ripping the Carriers away from Coraline.
The tentacle monster emerges a moment later amidst further squelching like a submarine out of an ice sheet. Dirt showers down around it. Some of the dirt falls right through it. Carriers are thrown aside. The tentacle monster grabs a couple with its tentacles and shoves them into its maw, eyes rippling out around it, devouring them whole.
Coraline scrambles away, grabbing Agata, and dodges another Carrier.
The tentacle monster grabs up a few more, devouring them as well, oozing along, low to the ground, tentacles reaching out far to grab others in the process, and trampling them as it goes. It makes a wide circle around Coraline, grabbing, devouring, smashing, leaving behind a trail of bodies and a bloody smear, until none are left standing.
It rises up like a monolith, drawing its tentacles back into itself, and moves toward Coraline.
Coraline stares at the tentacle monster fearfully, holding Agata close.
Agata puts her ears back.
TENTACLE MONSTER
Go. Your sanctuary is not here.
CORALINE
I... you... thank you?
TENTACLE MONSTER
Go.
The tentacle monster reaches out with a tentacle and pushes Coraline away, turning her about.
Coraline runs for it.


EXT. Molstead inn - night
Coraline goes around back, trying to figure the best way in, Agata following at her heels. She starts dismantling one of the windows.
CORALINE
(quietly)
So they know. They know what I am?
AGATA
Not as such, but once things calm, word'll get around. You were out for awhile. People saw that crowd, knew something was the centre of it all. Some probably saw you walk out of it.
(mind voice)
It's time you got on with it. Hiding, not working so well.
CORALINE
(removing the pane)
What hit me?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Probably someone aiming for something else.
Coraline sets the pane of glass down carefully, eyeing the cat.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Probably.
CORALINE
Perkele.
Coraline tries to hoist herself up through the window, fails, tries again, and topples headfirst into the inn's kitchen.


INT. Molstead inn - night
It is disturbingly quiet, and dark. A small trickle of light trickles back from the main room.
Coraline heads into the store room and packs up some supplies, a couple of kegs and the equivalent of a large liquor cabinet, and enough food and questionable potion bottles to crush a small child, stuffing it all into her really rather small pocket bag, pulling the inner lining out a bit in order to swallow up a few of the larger items. Somehow it all fits, and the bag gets no bigger.
In the corner is a small shrine of pretty things. Keepsakes, memories, books, reminders of home, reminders of who Coraline is and how she had gotten here: an ornate filigree mask wired to a pair of sunglasses; a dried flower woven out of grass; a bright cuddly sea-anemone; a wooden statuette of Ganesha, and with it a smaller one of a wombat in a vest. Argument of Hags is perched nearby.
Coraline tucks the things into her bag, and grabs Argument of Hags. The cat doesn't exactly resist, but clings for dear life, digging in with claws.
CORALINE
(muttering)
I know, I know, you don't like being carried, but it's that or leave you here and you've grown on me entirely too much.
Dors enters, crossbow levelled in front of him, but he lowers it upon seeing Coraline.
DORS
You going?
CORALINE
Yeah.
DORS
You take care of yourself out there. This world, it'll eat you.
CORALINE
You too, man.
Dors grins at her and turns back toward the main room.
Coraline hurries over toward her bedroom, wads up her bedding and clothes and some other supplies, and feeds those and all her books and other stuff into the bag as well. Then she gets out another bag that looks much the same size as the outside and fits that into the inside of the other bag, concealing the seemingly bottomless pit within. She puts a small amount of money and another bottle in this.
Thimble is glaring down at her from a shelf.
CORALINE
(to Thimble)
I'm leaving. Come with me, you delightful meme.
Thimble continues to glare at her with his perpetually angry face.
Coraline gives him an irate look and reaches up and carries him off, and then grabs her bag and heads back toward the window, which she proceeds to fall out of, breaking the pane of glass on the ground in the process.


EXT. Molstead inn - night
Agata gives Coraline and the spare cat a long blank look, then turns away, padding off in a direction.
Coraline follows after.


EXT. Molstead - night
Nolan and Jora get back into town amidst alarming silence, and even more alarming noise. Isolated yells puncture it yellingly from time to time. Most of the noise is fire, and things on fire.
Dead people are in the streets, some townsfolk, some soldiers. Festival stuff is smashed and scattered about, along with random bits of clothing and other discarded items. Gogs peer at them curiously from under the eaves, leaning down to watch them as their pass.
Through it all are a few folks still standing, wandering aimlessly. They are Carriers.
Jora holds her sword at the ready, giving them a wide berth.
Nolan walks up to a Carrier just sort of standing there and pushes him over.
The Carrier doesn't respond, lying where he fell.
JORA
Nolan?
Nolan hands Jora a dagger, which she tosses slightly and then stuffs in her belt.
NOLAN
Use that on them first, then kill them.
We should flee. It would be logical. Mathematical. But then we would not know what it was we fled.
JORA
Does it matter?
NOLAN
It may.
JORA
And this?
NOLAN
The Death of Souls has returned to the forefront.
They continue on toward the centre of town.
A few of the Carriers start to follow Nolan and Jora as they pass. A few gogs skitter around the buildings, following as well.
They come to a building with two elven tourists standing on the roof, back to back. One of them is holding a broom like a weapon. The other has a sheathed sword and seems totally uncertain whether he should get it out or not.
Several Carriers are standing around the building staring up at the roof.
ELF WITH BROOM
You! You're alive! Help?
Jora slows, looking up at them.
NOLAN
No.
Nolan tugs at Jora's sleeve to keep her going.
JORA
Stay put. You should be safe up there.
ELF WITH BROOM
But...
As they continue on, the Carriers around the building turn to follow them, instead.


EXT. Molstead market square - night
The market square is full of bodies. The bonfire is low. There is a suspicious hole in the ground, and an even more suspicious and splattery large wet streak across the ground through the middle of it all.
A small group of soldiers in dark armour are clustered about, watching the area, weapons at the ready. Nurunn and Doranis are among them, investigating.
Doranis is investigating by staring at the ground in confused horror.
Nurunn is squatting by the hole. He picks up some gloop out of it, sniffs it, and frowns.
Nolan marches into the square and goes right to the soldiers. Jora follows slightly more cautiously, watching them carefully, but staying close to Nolan.
The soldiers watch Nolan and Jora guardedly, but make no move to stop them.
Nurunn gets up and comes over.
NOLAN
We were followed.
Several Carriers amble into the square after them.
A few other Carriers run into the square after them.
NURUNN
I see.
Jora sighs and turns about, crouching down, sword in one hand, dagger in the other, ready to jump at the runners, but instead the earth in front of her erupts in tentacles, which reach up and grab the running Carriers before retracting entirely back into the ground, Carriers and all.
Nurunn runs over, sword at the ready. The soldiers shift uneasily.
The tentacles are already gone. Only broken ground and large clods of dirt remain.
The ambling Carriers continue towards them as though nothing had happened, walking right into the broken ground, but no more tentacles emerge. A few of them trip and fall.
One of the nearer ones, a WOMAN, stops uncertainly a distance from Jora and Nurunn.
WOMAN
Please. Can you help us?
JORA
(holding out the dagger guardedly)
What are you? What happened here?
WOMAN
I don't know... please, help. It's so wrong, so wrong...
NURUNN
They are Carriers of the Death of Souls. There is no helping them.
(casting overhead)
Guäïn adëaka käïkä.
The spell trickles over everyone in the square.
Nurunn unceremoniously cuts the woman down, and moves on to the other amblers and rather efficiently does the same with them.
Jora lowers her weapons uncertainly, and then when the soldiers go to help, joins in, taking out a couple herself.
Nolan wanders over toward another Carrier coming into the square from a different direction, stops in front of him, and does a little dance.
The Carrier stops and stares at Nolan confusedly.
Nolan does another little dance, this time centred on the other foot.
Nurunn throws a sword through the Carrier's face.
Nolan stops dancing, turns around, and nonchalantly walks back toward Nurunn.
NOLAN
Did you learn anything?
NURUNN
Yes.
Nolan stops and stares up at Nurunn expectantly.
NURUNN
(bemusedly)
Fragments of the Black seem to temporarily inhibit the symptoms of the Death of Souls through contact.
NOLAN
And then?
NURUNN
Then it exploded.
Nolan continues to stare at Nurunn expectantly.
Nurunn stares right back.
NOLAN
What is 'the Black'?
NURUNN
An ancient relic of unknown power, safely guarded.
NOLAN
It's not safe.
We're done here.
Nolan turns back the way they came, but Nurunn grabs his hand and presses a black soulstone into it.
Nolan holds it up in front of his face, turning it over, staring into its depths, and then pulls another one out of his pocket.
NOLAN
Interesting.
JORA
Why do you have...
NOLAN
(holding up the first one)
He wants to see how I react to this. If I'm a Carrier.
JORA
You're not. Right?
Nolan puts the black soulstones over his ears.
NOLAN
(curiously)
It's... singing?
Nurunn just stares at him.
Nolan hands the soulstones back, looking almost confused.
Jora marches over, pulls another black soulstone out of her pocket, and waves it at Nurunn.
JORA
Not Carriers, see?
NURUNN
(to Jora)
So that's normal?
Jora shudders and hastily drops the soulstone in revulsion.
JORA
(fishing out another black soulstone out of her pocket)
He doesn't have a normal setting. If he did, we wouldn't even be here. Or maybe we would be here, and we'd all be dead. I don't...
She glances at the second soulstone uncertainly, and then notices Nolan already heading off back the way they came.
JORA
Feck.
She drops the other soulstone, too, and runs after Nolan to catch up.
Nurunn frowns after her and picks up the black soulstones.
JORA
Nolan! Is this what you wanted the Gateway for?
Nolan doesn't answer as they continue on out of town.
NOLAN
You're not going into shock.
JORA
(slowing)
What?
NOLAN
You already are in shock.
Jora stares at him incredulously, and then leaps aside to take out another couple of Carriers.
JORA
Okay, different question. When did you fill my pockets with soulstones?
NOLAN
This morning.
Theoretically yes. We'll see if the math holds.

Exit by fortune

EXT. Woods outside Molstead - early morning
Small groups of the soldiers in dark armour are in the woods, holding a perimeter of sorts, and hunting down escaping Carriers.
Coraline nearly runs into a pair of them while trying to find a better way to carry Thimble, stumbling out into their torchlight in surprise. Agata is on her head, and not entirely awake at this point.
Thimble murrs unhappily.
The soldiers point swords at her all very suddenly.
Coraline stops very suddenly, holding up a very angry-looking cat.
The soldiers stare at Coraline in surprise, then lower their weapons. A bit.
SOLDIER DUDLEY
Watch it.
SOLDIER ECHRLATL
You got all your cats, or are you gonna need to go back for another load?
CORALINE
Yes.
Echrlatl laughs.
Dudley gives Coraline a dubious look.
Coraline starts to sidle around them.
SOLDIER ECHRLATL
(grabbing Coraline's arm)
Wait.
Echrlatl pulls Coraline close, staring at her carefully, watching her eyes, nearly squashing Thimble between them.
Agata falls off Coraline's head, clawing at her hair in surprise.
Thimble hisses.
CORALINE
(struggling, in particular to not squash Thimble)
Let go of me!
The voices rise to a roar around her, clamouring in her head, and she feels the brightness of the Death of Souls, its strange dark pull overwhelming her.
Coraline struggles even harder, trying to get away, to protect her cat, even as she needs to get closer, needs to be the darkness...
Thimble lets out a low yowl.
Echrlatl abruptly lets go, and Coraline jumps away.
SOLDIER ECHRLATL
Sorry, miss. Had to be sure.
CORALINE
(backing away)
Sure of what?!
SOLDIER ECHRLATL
There's Carriers of the Death of Souls in the area. Had to be sure you weren't one of them.
Coraline stares at them, confused, and then just turns and runs, holding Thimble close. Agata runs after.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Arrrgh, rude. That was close.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Close? Close?!
AGATA
(mind voice)
Doesn't matter. He didn't see it.
You're getting better at resisting.

Exit by intent

EXT. Edifice - early morning
Nolan tries the door, only to find it sealed as before.
Jora goes to give the immediate area a lookout while he figures it out.
Nolan grabs another, much less appropriate, stick off the ground and very unhappily scrapes the same shapes into it as Kit had done earlier. He pokes the door.
Nothing happens.
Nolan frowns at the stick, bugs his eyes out at the runes, and then adjusts one slightly. He pokes the door again.
This time the magic sealing the doorway bursts into oddly lighting-appropriate (or lack thereof) sparkles as the door unlatches.
NOLAN
Jora.
Jora appears as if out of nowhere, and they head back inside, door sealing again behind them.


INT. Edifice basement - early morning
The basement shows no sign of Kit or Erry when Nolan and Jora get back down. The Gateway is humming vaguely, its lights subdued.
JORA
If they went through, they could be anywhere.
NOLAN
Good.
Nolan goes to the control crystal, stares at it for a long moment, and then pokes it very deliberately.
The crystals in the Gateway light up, and the hum thrums. A rippling film appears across the opening, like the surface of a bubble.
JORA
If they didn't...
NOLAN
They did.
Nolan walks into the gateway and disappears as he crosses the threshold.
Jora eyes it uncertainly, and then ducks her head and follows.


INT. Blocky structure - gateway floor
The entryway is a room of sorts, large, square, dark, and with no discernible doors, windows, or even light fixtures, nestled in a horrible pressing silence. The only features in it are another Gateway and a strange circle of glyphs on the floor. This Gateway is standing much more elegantly than the other, supporting itself, without cables, but has no control crystal.
Two gogs are clinging to the walls.
A magelight is affixed to the ceiling.
Kit is sitting against a wall. Erry is asleep on his shoulder, the stuffed moose on her head.
The Gateway flickers to life, and Nolan and Jora come through.
Kit jumps up, knocking Erry awake.
Erry sits up, rubbing her eyes. The moose tumbles to the floor.
Jora nods at Kit, looking relieved.
ERRY
Hi.
NOLAN
Dinner?
KIT
Oh, that's what we forgot. So silly of us, after having packed everything else for this little venture.
Look, I hate to be the one to say this, but I think we're trapped. Vitoi's end. Can't turn on the Gateway from here, and can't seem to find any way out of this... room, either.
(he casts new magelights on Jora and Nolan)
Kiuen adëaka...
NOLAN
Really?
Kit gives Nolan an annoyed look, which slides right off like ducks.
Erry offers Nolan a tin of cookies. Nolan takes it and starts eating them very methodically.
JORA
Do we know where we are?
Kit shakes his head.
Erry looks at Nolan.
Nolan stares vaguely at a wall and pulls a leg of mutton out of his pocket.
Nolan pokes the wall. A small trickle of water is trickling down it.
Kit scuffs at the glyphs on the floor with his foot.
ERRY
Why are we here? Why aren't we home?
KIT
(glumly)
I wanted an adventure. I didn't think we'd... er...
NOLAN
Your home is gone. Your parents are dead. This is better.
KIT
Eh?
Erry stares at Nolan incredulously.
NOLAN
There was an outbreak of the Death of Souls. The Quints were killed on the spot. Mrs. Enori was turned as a Carrier and likely eaten.
There's a horrible awkward silence.
JORA
It's true. Molstead was a mess. It's good we weren't there when it happened.
KIT
You saw them?
NOLAN
No.
KIT
Then how can you possibly know...
NOLAN
Probability, previous trajectories, and sheep. Mr. Enori only survived because he would have wound up in the inn, escorting some of the small people. The less erratic ones.
Erry and Kit stare at him.
JORA
I'm so sorry.
Jora hugs Erry, and Erry just looks really, really confused.
Kit shakes his head, looking rather freaked out.
NOLAN
It doesn't matter.
KIT
(yelling in frustration)
Ghaaagh!
(taking a deep breath and continuing more normally)
We need to find a way out of here.
Nolan nods. Once.
JORA
We can't go back.
NOLAN
No.
JORA
So how do we continue?
Nolan goes and stands in the circle of glyphs.
Nothing happens.
Kit pushes him out and stands in the circle instead, and tries casting a few random spells.
KIT
uëkuëa ido ibao. mon dikaguärami. namön. ikusiabud.
Nothing continues to happen, though a few of the spells make some pretty effects. The last one emits a small boom.
Erry goes and stands in it with him.
All at once, the wall in front of them rumbles outward, swinging on a side, revealing a corridor of featureless darkness, as wide as the room they're in.
ERRY
(quietly)
You think it. You think 'open open open'. It opened.
JORA
Very good.
KIT
(peering out into the darkness)
I don't get it. This isn't Torini, but it's definitely elven...
The Soravian elves were all Torini. Even across the mainland it was mostly Torini. How far...
Nolan marches off into the newly-discovered corridor. More circles of glyphs mark apparent doors on more expanses of wall.
KIT
Oy!
His voice echos strangely.
Kit runs after Nolan.
Nolan doesn't slow down, and just keeps right on going. The others follow after, passing by several circles of glyphs. The corridor turns, and Nolan simply turns with it, continuing.
ERRY
(whispering)
It's like it's dead. We're inside the body, but it's dead.
They turn another corner and hit a possibly dead end.
Nolan goes and stands in one of the circles of glyphs, and nearly runs into Kit, who nearly fails to get out of his way.
A large wide door of wall swings open in front of them. The room revealed is full of blocks, and a particularly large block that might be a table. Nolan stares at it for a bit.
KIT
Whoever these people were, you think maybe they liked blocks?
ERRY
(peering in as well)
No.
Kit gives her an irritated look, and goes and opens the door wall on the other side of the corridor. This room also contains blocks.
Kit steps back and the wall door closes.
They tiredly open a few more sections. Most reveal rooms with blocks, of varying sizes. One is empty. Another contains a construct of swirling shards of stone, which flies out and tries to smash Erry.
Erry shrieks at it, trying to look as scary as possible.
This has no effect.
KIT
Muta uma!
Kit throws a fireball at it, destabilising it.
Jora smacks it with the flat of her blade, knocking some of the pieces apart. She smacks it again a few times, and it clatters to the ground in pieces.
KIT
(picking up one of the shards)
What is this?
NOLAN
Hostile.
KIT
You think?
Ugh. I need a wand, or some kind of proper focus.
JORA
Don't you have one?
KIT
No! Keller didn't approve. Said a good wizard doesn't need that stuff. Need, my ass! Has he ever even had to deal with these sorts of things?
JORA
Even if you are a good wizard, that doesn't mean you shouldn't use the things that can make you better.
KIT
Exactly! Why aren't you a wizard?
Erry rubs her eyes.
Kit and Nolan open a few more. One of them is a small square room with a much larger than usual cicle of glyphs going around the entire room, or as much larger as a circle can inside a square.
A gog skitters in behind them.
They all pile in and start thinking random things.
ERRY
Sausage?
Kit closes his eyes and concentrates, thinking of what purposes such a room could serve, and such a place, and what would be needed. And what they need. They need a lot of things. He doesn't know what they need.
Silently the entire room begins to descend.


INT. Blocky structure - lodgement floor
Several long seconds later, the room stops, and the wall door opens, revealing yet another blocky corridor.
Erry yawns hugely and opens the wall across from them. The room inside contains yet more blocks, dozens laid out evenly, but these are long and low, almost the size and shape of beds.
Erry trods over to one and collapses on it, sinking into it a little. This meets with her approval, so she snuggles into it a bit, pulls herself on entirely, and prompty falls asleep.
Jora and the others come in as well, looking about at the really quite featureless blocks.
Jora presses on one with her hand.
JORA
Soft. These are beds?
Nolan flops across one crosswise, his legs hanging off the side.
NOLAN
(with his face in the bed, a bit muffled)
Yes.
KIT
(with considerably satisfaction)
Yessssss.

Mother of zombies

EXT. River Lenn - afternoon
It's a bright and sunny, if somewhat chilly, day. The river winds through the trees like an aimless jogger, low and muddy, and open. A small boat floats with the current, vaguely south. Agata is perched on the bow, and Coraline is asleep in the bottom of the boat, Thimble hunched tensely beside her.
For a long bit, nothing really happens. The boat drifts downriver under the bright blue sky, under bare branches, under late autumn fire. Agata watches carefully, eyeing hazards, putting an ear back at the odd oddity. Thimble cries unhappily.
Coraline wakes up blearily and hugs him.
Thimble burrows into her coat.
CORALINE
I'm sorry, I didn't mean...
Coraline sits up a bit, rocking the boat entirely too much at first, and then tries again, keeping herself more balanced, wincing at her sore muscles. She drinks some whiskey and looks out over the water, and the sunlight bores into her brain like an augur, drilling out of the sky, bouncing off the river. Even the light rocks at the shore are almost blinding.
She covers her eyes and immediately feels 62% better.
CORALINE
Agata, did we... was there something...?
Coraline gestures vaguely.
AGATA
Everything is perfect. Utterly, absolutely, perfect.
CORALINE
Great.
Coraline slides back down into the bottom of the boat, curling around Thimble protectively, and Dreams.
The snow is falling wetly around you, draping a soggy blanket across the landscape, drooping off of fencelines, hanging over edges of trees and roofs alike. The town looks deserted. The tracks are as snowy as anything.
You wipe some snow off your head and it melts in trickles around your fingers, dripping down your neck and back, slipping beneath your coat.
There are trolls around, but they will be dulled by the cold. They don't like the wet especially. Babies' eyes. Running late. You don't need to hurry. You can afford to stop.
You can afford to stop.
You step onto the station porch and peer about, noting the wetness, the leaves blown into the corners, wet and frozen. The ticketing machines are rusted with disuse. The door is shut, locked.
You try it anyway. It opens with difficulty, hinges resisting, screaking, grating all the way until it sticks, and a cloud of stale air drifts out. It doesn't want to. It doesn't want you here.
"Down here," Agata's voice says, inside, drifting out of corners. "You'll want to see this."
The door is only partially open, only a little. You push through regardless, squeezing past handle and frame, into the darkness full of shapes: boxes stacked in the gloom, leering frames of cabinets, drawers hanging open, spiderwebs gaping, empty. You are neither spider nor fly. It is all already over.
The darkness hangs like a sieve.
"Down here," Agata repeats, driftingly, distant. You follow the voice, twisting through the maze, turning the corners between stacks, deeper and deeper. It is a labyrinth, silent as the grave, stuffy. The door stops you suddenly, looming up around a corner all at once, set into a wall, ordinary, plain. Standard industry handle. Standard frame painted the same as the walls. Walls, barren, unnotable. No windows. You touch it and the surface vibrates. The paint stirs, bubbles, shifts. It is rough, but not, trembling.
The handle turns easily.
Beyond is only darkness, deep, looming, empty. Voices in the shadows. Singing in the depths. Echoes. It goes on and on, but there is only nothing within its depths. It goes down, but the light stops at the threshold. Darkness, darkness, darkness.
"You'll want to see this," Agata repeats, the same words, the same voice, suddenly loud, right in front of you, all around.
The doorway, hanging open, beckons, inviting. The darkness beyond hints at shapes, ordered columns, singing against the black, and beyond it, more.
You almost try to step forward, but then you can't. You can't move, instead finding yourself frozen in uncertainty and fear, paralysing, pulling you down as the dream dissolves around you, pulling, pulling, pulling, reaching, grasping.


Coraline is underwater. Something is holding her, pulling her down. Hands reach for her, grasping at her arms and legs. Undead faces leer, grinning at her out of the murk. They're not all there.
It's cold. It's suffocating. She's drowning, and yet she isn't struggling.
Milky eyes peer at her curiously out of a sagging, bloated head.
Coraline pulls away and breaks the surface, coughing. The air hits like ice. Bright sunlight streams down. The river is much rockier here.
Decomposing hands pull her back down into cocooning silence. The voices trickle mutely.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You could just let yourself die. It would be easier.
CORALINE
(mind voice; vaguely)
I don't want to...
AGATA
(mind voice)
Then fight!
Coraline twists away, thrashing at the hands, struggling back for the surface, for the bottom, anything. She steps on a head and it smashes like a melon. She grabs at some rocks and pulls her way up them, scrabbling for holds, scraping her fingers, and then she's on the surface again. She kicks at the dead people, but they hold on, so she kicks some more, knocking off fingers and limbs, and pulls herself out of the water, onto a rock, coughing and shivering.
Bloated faces and bare skulls stare up at her from out of the water.
The boat is sideways, caught on some rocks nearby, with Agata and Thimble on them. Agata is dry. Thimble isn't, and is shivering violently, quickly grooming himself to dry off.
Coraline finally manages to catch her breath a bit and stares toward Agata uncertainly.
AGATA
Hello. Having fun?
CORALINE
Why are there dead people in the river?
AGATA
They're called drowners. They drown people. And then you get more drowners.
Coraline shivers violently herself, and bursts into flame. She flails a bit in a panic, almost falls back into the river, and then the flames go out all at once, leaving her mostly dry and unharmed.
One of the drowners reaches a hand up out of the water toward her.
Coraline kicks it away.
Others reach for her too, grasping at the rocks, trying to climb up after her. One hand pokes a detached foot out of the water and waves it a bit. Faces stare, some little more than rounded bone.
Coraline kicks at these, too, stomping on some of the ones that get too high. She opens her bag, still secured to her belt, and pulls out the inner bag a bit, trying to find her staff.
Another drowner pulls its way up onto the rocks in front of her, and its hips and the remains of organs fall back into the river with a horrible sloughing. Coraline kicks the rest of it away.
CORALINE
(yelling in frustration)
What do you all want? Are you just trying to drown me? Is that it?
Thimble jumps away, running over the rocks to the shore.
The drowners in the water all sort of stop and stare at her. A few partially out let go and slide back in, also staring at her.
CORALINE
Hi. Do you... understand me?
The drowners continue to stare at her. A couple of them nod.
CORALINE
You don't actually know what you want, do you?
Some of the drowners shake their heads. Others just stare.
AGATA
(mind voice)
They don't normally try to follow people out of the water, either. But you're different. You even speak like Dead. They probably like you.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Like me?!
AGATA
(mind voice)
You're their mother.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What? No I'm not.
(aloud, to the drowners)
I'm not your mother.
Voi paska, unohdin kissani!
The drowners stare at her expectantly.
CORALINE
(panicking)
Or... did I? Did I accidentally pack her with my bedding? I didn't kill her, did I? Can cats breathe? Is there air? Agata?
AGATA
I don't know. Breathe.
CORALINE
What?
AGATA
You need to breathe too. You should do that.
CORALINE
I can't breathe, I need to get my cat!
AGATA
Really?
Coraline stops and stares at Agata.
Behind them and around, river sprites dart in and out of the waves.
A drowner climbs up onto the rocks by Coraline's feet and hugs her legs. A couple of others start climbing up as well again.
Coraline stares at the drowners.
CORALINE
I... I'm calm. I'm sorry. I'm calm, and I'm breathing, and the cat can wait and I'm calm and there are drowners hugging my legs.
Coraline stares at the drowners a bit more.
CORALINE
There are drowners hugging my legs.
The drowners snuggle her legs and crawl up around her.
Coraline addresses the drowners, and this time notices as her voice changes, becoming looser, huskier. Alien.
CORALINE
You all... should really go back into the water.
The drowners peer up at her with dead, rotting, and missing eyes. The ones out of the water slip back in, letting go of her, dropping off the rocks.
Coraline kneels down on the wet rocks, peering at the drowners.
CORALINE
Go back to sleep. Okay? Just go back to sleep. I can't help you.
The drowners continue to stare up at her out of the water, then slowly, first only a couple, then more and more of them all at once, sink down into the water. Mostly they just disappear into the murk, but a few fall apart entirely, drifting away with the current in pieces.
AGATA
Good. Now how about getting your boat out and making some sort of camp?
CORALINE
Camp?
AGATA
You need to sleep. Properly. Also eat. This part of the river is going to take navigating.


EXT. River Lenn shore - evening
Coraline has made a camp of sorts, half in the trees, half on the rocks. A primitive tent is set up in the trees and full of bedding. A small, mostly smokeless fire is on the rocks by the tent opening, with a pot with soup on. Coraline is lying half-out of the tent, poking the fire with a stick, and sometimes the pot. Her bag is lying open next to the tent.
The boat is pulled up nearby.
A drowner crawls out of the river, gets up awkwardly, and stumbles over toward the camp, before tripping on a rock and falling on its face.
Coraline glares at it.
The drowner just lies there.



Later, Coraline is eating the soup, giving some of the chunks to Agata. The drowner is still lying where it fell.
Thimble pads over out of the trees and plops down next to Coraline, and she gives him some chunks too.
CORALINE
(to Thimble)
Sorry about earlier.
Argument of Hags noses her way out of Coraline's bag and sits nearby, not really paying any attention to Coraline or the tent.
A moment later, Onpahanvaanlampi also emerges, and comes over and sits on Thimble.
CORALINE
So... it is liveable.
AGATA
It's a magic bag, so it's magic. Sometimes entire families live out of them. Though some bags'll just kill anything that enters.
You got lucky.
Another drowner crawls out of the water and stares vaguely at Coraline from the shoreline.
CORALINE
Are they just going to keep doing that all night?
AGATA
Probably.
CORALINE
(collapsing into the tent)
Perkele.
Wake me if they seem hostile again.


EXT. River Lenn shore - morning
Coraline wakes up to find two drowners standing right at the tent opening, staring at her disturbingly closely. Agata is lying on her; Onpahanvaanlampi is sitting on Agata, hissing and growling at the drowners; and another, entirely white, cat she's never even seen before is curled up right next to her face.
Coraline nudges the white cat with her nose, and it gets up and walks awkwardly away on three legs. The other leg is just missing.
Onpahanvaanlampi stops growling and stares at Coraline, looking affronted.
CORALINE
Don't look at me. You have me pinned down. You'll have to deal with this yourself.
The drowners drip a bit, staring. A piece of flesh falls off one of them.
AGATA
They're not hostile.
CORALINE
(irritably)
Thank you, Agata.
(to the drowners, in the strange Dead voice)
You know, you'd probably be in better shape if you stayed out of the water. Just a thought.
One of them cocks its head at her curiously.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
Also you smell.
Argument of Hags yowls a bit outside.
CORALINE
Agh, what?
Coraline pries herself out of the bedding and tent, dislodging Onpahanvaanlampi off Agata, and pushes past the two drowners. A bottle of shalott mysteriously appears in her hand.
Argument of Hags is staring down an entire crowd of drowners assembled before the tent, loitering on the shore, standing in the river, all hanging around watching the tent very, very closely. They turn to stare at Coraline instead as she emerges.
Coraline stares at them.
They stare at Coraline.
Coraline turns back toward the tent.
The two drowners that had been hanging over her stare at her.
Coraline turns back to the assembled crowd of drowners.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
No! I'm not interested! Go away!
AGATA
(mind voice)
Not interested in what?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I don't know! I don't care!
The drowners stare at Coraline disappointedly. A few of the ones in the river sag back into the water.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
What?
The drowners stare at her a bit, not really doing much. One of the nearer ones kneels before her, and then others, too, rippling outward, until all of the drowners are kneeling before Coraline subserviently, aside from the ones with no knees. And the ones that fall over, instead.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Sure you're not interested? You could have an army.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What the buckets would I do with an army? Especially of these. Look at them. They can't even kneel properly.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Sheer numbers can make up for a lot.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Right up until someone with the slightest magical know-how just up and blasts the sheer numbers in one hit.
(Dead voice)
Go away! I don't want an army! I'm sorry, but I just don't!
The drowners look up at Coraline in confusion. A few get up, also in confusion.
Coraline pulls a random nearer drowner to its feet and turns it back toward the river. It oozes a bit in her hands.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
Just go back into the water and pretend I was never here, okay? Just go back and be drowners. In the water. And drown people. Like normal. Ignore me.
Some of the drowners start shuffling dejectedly back toward the water. Others just stare at Coraline.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
It... would please me greatly if you all went back into the water and acted like normal?
This has an effect. The rest of the drowners get up. Several of them bow, and they all head back for the water, some of them rather rushing for it. Quite a few of them run into each other. A few of them trip and fall and just crawl into the river like thirsting men at an oasis.
A moment later, the shore is clear.
AGATA
You could have handled that better.
CORALINE
Thanks for the feedback. Do you have anything useful to suggest, or is that it?
AGATA
Well, Kyrule certainly wouldn't approve.
CORALINE
He can go suck on a cactus.
(she takes a swig of shalott)
Or maybe have some non-conversations with a pile of rotting lost puppies himself, if he really wants to.
AGATA
Tell him that sometime.
CORALINE
I might.
Coraline packs away the camp, and the cats.
When she continues downriver, using a stick for a paddle, pushing her way around rocks, only Agata is out in the boat with her.
The drowners remain under the water, almost as if they were not there, but sometimes the rocks around the boat unexpectedly move, suggesting otherwise. The river sprites avoid them, sticking to the shallows.


EXT. River Lenn, outside Somn's Post - afternoon
The sky is overcast, the water choppy from a brisk wind coming low under the trees. The boat passes a few farms along the river, and mill things, and other things people build along rivers, but few people are out today.
A path comes up, heading off the shore into a stand of trees ahead, and Coraline prods the boat toward the rocks at the shore with her stick. She winds up crashing into a particularly large rock at a particularly slow speed, and glares at the rock.
Agata jumps out onto the rock.
The boat slowly turns around in current, and then wedges itself against another rock.
AGATA
It would help if you got out.
CORALINE
Fine.
Coraline gets up and tries to climb out onto the rocks and nearly falls out into the river instead, and then gets out for real slightly more carefully onto some slightly lower rocks right next to the other rocks.
She leaves the boat behind and heads over to the path, Agata bounding after.

Slip up

EXT. Somn's Post - afternoon
It's a small crossing town nestled on one of the river's bends. Some folks are out and about. Some are gossipping on porches. One guy is leaning on a post, smoking something. Horses are tied up at buildings.
People greet Coraline as she passes, and she nods and waves back, pretending to be friendly.
The pub is marked by a sign outside: 'free ale, sexy bartenders, and false advertising'. It has an arrow pointing toward the door.


INT. Pub at Somn's Post - late afternoon
It's a tired old pub, with more folks in. A sign that says 'no cats on the bar' is on the wall behind the bar, along with several other signs all over the walls, such as 'no spitting', 'food with flavour sold here' and 'your mom wants you to do the dishes', as well as a few much, much longer ones that make even less sense. Many of them feature something about alcohol, or at least food, but not all.
A Deathdealer, VARDAMAN, is at the bar. He has swords and armour and all the usual things, and long silver hair tied back in a ponytail. He also has a drink, which at the moment seems to be the single most important thing in his life.
Ash demons float lethargically by some of the walls, and over a few particular tables and stools.
Nobody looks up as Coraline clomps in and drops her bag on the bar, taking a seat nearby, leaving an empty seat between them.
Vardaman ignores her. Coraline ignores him. A cat crawls out of her bag. It's Thimble.
The bartender ignores all this for a bit before finally trudging over and stopping standoffishly in front of Coraline. He looks at the cat. The cat ignores him.
He looks at Coraline.
BARTENDER
Get ya anything?
CORALINE
Got any rum?
BARTENDER
Not after the incident with the Jenners.
CORALINE
Grog?
BARTENDER
No.
CORALINE
Vodka?
BARTENDER
This look like mageland to you?
CORALINE
Oh, come on. Even we stocked vodka.
You have a sign that says 'Alcohol!'. Just get me something that's stronger than ale.
Vardaman glances over briefly.
VARDAMAN
A shalott. She likes those.
Agata hops up onto the seat between them.
CORALINE
(leaning on Thimble)
I'd argue, but it's true.
Thimble licks her hair.
The bartender grunts and goes to get a new bottle.
VARDAMAN
(to Coraline)
So you're still alive.
CORALINE
I am? I hadn't noticed.
VARDAMAN
No? I could check for you.
CORALINE
Um... right.
Vardaman smirks.
The bartender plonks a shalott in front of Coraline.
CORALINE
(grabbing the bottle out of his hand as well, and passing him some coin in the same motion)
Thanks.
Thimble leans over to sniff the shalott, and Coraline confiscates and downs it, then refills the mug, eyes Thimble, and sets it down by his tail.
VARDAMAN
So where are you headed?
CORALINE
Uh... I hadn't actually figured that out yet. Why do I know your name?
VARDAMAN
We've met before, haven't we? Telegrin. Four years ago. Girls.
CORALINE
Girls?


INT. Some other pub entirely, four years ago - night
VARDAMAN
DRINK!
CORALINE
DRINK!
VARDAMAN
DRINK!
The barkeep comes over and looks at them flatly.
CORALINE
YES!
VARDAMAN
YES!
The barkeep refills their drinks.
CORALINE
DRINK!
They drink their drinks.
Vardaman stares at his empty drink disappointedly.
VARDAMAN
FUCK!
Coraline peers over at his drink, then at her own.
CORALINE
FECK!
VARDAMAN
DRINK!
CORALINE
DRINK!
The barkeep refills their drinks.
CORALINE
DRINK!
Coraline drinks and throws her cup over her shoulder.
Vardaman drinks.
VARDAMAN
DRINK!
CORALINE
GIRLS!


INT. Pub at Somn's Post - late afternoon
CORALINE
...oh. Right. En...
AGATA
(mind voice; interrupting)
Don't! Don't say his name.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What? Why not?
AGATA
(mind voice)
I don't know. Deathdealers... they give up your names. Why do you know his name?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Because he told me?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Not this one, he didn't.
Coraline gives Agata a confused look.
VARDAMAN
The name's Vardaman.
Amadi, right?
Coraline nods.
VARDAMAN
So what exactly did happen after all that?
CORALINE
Uh, you... uh... you told me how to kill zombies, and later I guess... I don't know.
Sorry about just leaving you in the alley. You seemed fine, but was that wrong?
Vardaman shrugs.
AGATA
Well, that sounds very interesting.
CORALINE
Not really. We drank too much and wound up passed out in an alley. And then I just sort of left.
VARDAMAN
You do that with all the men?
AGATA
No. You're special.
Either of you lovebirds wanna see a magic trick?
Coraline and Vardaman look at Agata.
Agata belches loudly.
VARDAMAN
I got a magic trick.
Vardaman grabs his bottle of shalott and chugs it, emptying it.
VARDAMAN
Smoke light.
He disappears the bottle in a small flash of light.
CORALINE
Well, I've got one too.
Coraline mimics Vardaman's hand gestures with the bottle, and makes a ball of fire in hers, which promptly explodes all over her, Agata, and Vardaman, and a little bit over the bar, setting her drink on fire. Thimble runs away in surprise.
Agata puts an ear back.
VARDAMAN
(blinking)
Ow, my pretty face.
CORALINE
Oops.
The bartender grumps over and angrily thumbs at a sign behind him. It seems to say, 'Special offer: two drinks for the price of two drinks', but underneath is one that says 'You burn it, you buy it'.
CORALINE
I already bought it. Perkele.
VARDAMAN
And we'll buy some more, since you're here.
The bartender glares at Coraline.
Coraline glares right back, and downs her flaming mug of shalott.
BARTENDER
Fine. But don't do that again.
The bartender procures some more bottles.



Later, a bar fight half-heartedly breaks out behind them. It's mostly non-violent, but involves a lot of yelling and an alarming amount of drink spills. Coraline and Vardaman are still talking, and scooted over toward the far end of the bar to get away from it. Over here, signs on the walls seem to predominantly say things along the lines of 'I swear to drunk I am not the gods' and 'I'm not as think as you drunk I am.'
Coraline and Vardaman are also rather more drunk now, having collectively gone enough alcohol to elicit some very strange looks from the bartender, and are yelling over the noise of the fight.
The bartender is standing nearby, holding a shovel very prominently, blade up, watching the fight.
CORALINE
So it's this entire town, right? They rename the entire town after him because they're so grateful. They even have a damn song about him, and threw this massive party when he came back.
VARDAMAN
And he just dropped some money on them?
CORALINE
Well, it wasn't some. It was a whole lot of money, by their standards. And the Magistrate couldn't just take it back the way it'd fallen out of the sky like that, since that'd just give them all the idea to go stealing from him too...
VARDAMAN
Hah. Most would call that an act of the gods.
SOMEONE BEHIND THEM
(loudly)
IT WAS TED!
This apparently pisses everyone off, and the fight breaks out in full. People punch each other, pick up chairs, and push and shove. Ash demons dart in and out of it, playfully, dancingly.
Coraline and Vardaman turn to watch, and Coraline slips off her stool, getting up entirely.
VARDAMAN
Careful.
The bartender runs forward with the shovel and hits a bunch of the folks with it, swinging it around, and smacks several more. The fight starts to properly break up, and the bartender runs back after a guy still holding a chair, swinging.
He and catches Coraline in the side of the head with one of the swings.
Coraline starts to crumple, but then suddenly stops, catching herself part-way down. A moment later she's rising slowly back to a standing position, deliberately, unconcerned. Blood trickles down her face.
Vardaman pulls her back, turning her face toward his to get a proper look.
VARDAMAN
Are you...?
He stops upon seeing her eyes. They have gone completely black.
Coraline hisses and reaches out a hand with fingers like claws, and tears at his soul, trying to devour it.
VARDAMAN
The fuck?!
Vardaman shoves her away in surprise, backing into the bar, and grabs a knife out of his boot.
Coraline turns into the chaos of the dying barfight that's suddenly all around her, sucks something right out of the air, and then grabs a random guy and devours his soul as well, tearing it away in faint swathes of glimmering light. It holds him up even as his legs give out under him, and then it's gone, and he collapses before her like a sack of joints.
Around her, some, but not all, of the chaos dies down all too abruptly as a few folks stop and stare, and others run away. A few jostle. The barkeeper runs after someone else, not paying attention.
VARDAMAN
(casting a soulbinding on Coraline)
Skin!
He runs after her.
Agata jumps on Coraline's head, perching for balance, and hisses.
Coraline suddenly stops, reaching up to touch her head, looking confused. Her eyes clear again.
CORALINE
Agata? What...?
Coraline whimpers and then crumples. Agata jumps aside.
Vardaman stops over Coraline, and elbows aside a guy who gets too close.
Agata hops back onto Coraline, standing protectively over her.
AGATA
(her ears back)
Do not kill her! Help us, and I will explain.
VARDAMAN
Are you joking, cat?! She's a Carrier!
AGATA
Yes.
VARDAMAN
And you...
We are in a populated area, with a hundred ways for even one Carrier to decimate the land.
AGATA
(stepping back)
Check her eyes! Tell me this is normal.
Vardaman frowns, but then kneels down and pulls back Coraline's eyelid with a thumb, putting his knife to her throat with his other hand. Her eye is indeed clear, the iris a deep dark brown.
VARDAMAN
Carriers do not revert.
AGATA
She is not a normal Carrier. She is fighting this, and she is almost winning.
VARDAMAN
Do you call that 'winning'?
AGATA
I call that getting hit in the head with a shovel. What do you fucking expect? Just get her out of here!
Vardaman gets up in time to tackle another guy with a chair, disarming him of his chair and shoving him to the floor, and then wrestles the shovel away from the bartender a moment later.
VARDAMAN
You hit a bystander, you fool.
Vardaman clonks the bartender on the head with the handle, then drops the shovel and grabs Coraline, hoisting her under an arm, and hurries out. Agata follows closely.
Folks back away quickly as he passes, getting well out of his way.



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Part 3: Query dead ends

In practice, there is only so far you can go, so much you can do, so much you can say.

Nevermind practice. This isn't practice. This is a treatise by the narrator, an examination of could-have-beens, an aside from the GM. We can talk about anything. Let's talk about anything.

Notes:

  1. Cats tolerated.
  2. Vitoi is the Cerrissian god of Dead Ends. He is the god of other things, and other things, too.
  3. Relative positions are absolute in their primacy.
  4. There is a map.
  5. The Deathdealer has been condemned.
  6. Who are you, sweetling?

Stability

INT. Blocky structure - lodgement floor
It is a large, blocky room, full of blocks.
Kit and Erry are sitting on chairs (blocks) at a table (a block), amidst many other tables (blocks) in an entire room full of tables (blocks). Nolan is sitting on the table. Jora is standing nearby. A gog is hanging from the ceiling. They are all holding blocks that have turned out to be rations. Only Nolan and the two gogs have started eating any.
Erry has a block on her head.
JORA
I've secured the floor. All empty, nothing hostile here, at least.
NOLAN
And the other floors?
JORA
Not yet. We'll need to find out how many there are, clear them too. See if there's a way out, see if anything else goes anywhere. If we are truly stuck here, know what it is we are stuck with.
Nolan nods.
JORA
This one appears to be all lodgement. Probably military of some sort, very basic, but efficient accommodations and support for up to a few thousand. A lot of it doesn't work, but we do have food and water.
NOLAN
And air. For now.
KIT
Do we have any idea what it was all for?
ERRY
Blocks.
KIT
Ugggh.
(tapping his ration block uncertainly)
Are we absolutely certain this is food?
NOLAN
Yes.
Erry slips off her block chair and heads for the door.


INT. Blocky structure - adjournment floor
Over the course of a few days, the kids clear the other floors, five of them altogether. The layouts are the same. The blockiness is all the same. Mostly rooms are empty, or full of blocks. Or partially full of blocks. Or mostly empty, but with one or two blocks.
They stop and rest at intervals, and slowly start to eat the ration blocks as they run out of their own food.
One room is full of zombies, in blocks. The zombies activate as the door is opened, sliding out of their blocks. Jora dismantles some with her sword, and Kit deactivates the rest with magic. They stuff them back into their blocks.
Another room will not open. There is a small puddle at its base.
NOLAN
This is significant.
Kit gives him an enquiring look.
Erry scuffs at the puddle with her boot.
KIT
You don't suppose there is a way out? What if this is all just a giant dead end?
JORA
What would be the point of having a giant dead end?
NOLAN
Ask Vitoi.
This isn't supposed to be.
They move on. They find a room full of disks, and no indication what to do with them. After all the blocks, they are strangely round, and even more strangely shiny, stacked in cases on shelves. Erry picks up a few curiously, holding them up to her light, admiring the colours.
KIT
(trying spells on a couple of different ones to find labels)
Uëkuëa ido. Yokoo mämana. Uëkuëa ido ibao inukuan?
This brings up nothing.
Nolan selects a few carefully, pocketing them.
They move on.
Gogs skitter in the darkness.
ERRY
Why don't we have magic ponies? Why aren't magic ponies a thing? I wanna ride a magic pony. It could be shaped like a giant sofa and gallop by flying around.
KIT
That's just stupid.
ERRY
No, you're stupid.
They move on, clear the rest, and as the days pass, settle in.


INT. Blocky structure - lodgement floor
They stay together, at first, talking little, doing things, doing nothing. Kit frets at his studies, practicing magic. Nolan calculates, considering sheep. Erry stays close, hugging her moose, but doesn't make eye contact.
Jora separates first, wandering off, working out, spending more and more of the hours at it, running, excercising, stretching, practicing at swords. She fashions workout clothes out of the things she was already wearing. There is no need for warm gear.
Erry wanders off and for awhile, nobody even notices. Nolan fetches her later, and makes her eat. She falls over shortly after.
There are no days, no nights, not even coherent cycles. They sleep, they eat. They come and go.
Through it all, the silence hangs like anvils.


INT. Blocky structure - gateway floor
Erry is alone, hugging her moose, staring at the Gateway, waiting for it to come on. It glows vaguely, but other than that, does nothing.
From time to time, she glances off to the side, toward the wall, as though she expects someone to be there.


INT. Blocky structure - adjournment floor
Nolan pokes at some blocks. Some of the rooms had functions. He tries them all.
In one, he finds resistance over the blocks, and pushes at it, pulling.
He turns and frowns at the doorway, but there is noone there.
A sound of skittering drifts through the halls.


INT. Blocky structure - lodgement floor
Kit is lying on a bed, staring at the ceiling, gnawing on a ration block. The others are elsewhere. There is no taste to the block, no smell to the air. No sound through the walls. He can hear his own gnawing most of all. He can hear his own breathing, and his heartbeat, and his stomach as it works to deal with the ration block.
He takes a deep breath and screams.
In another room, Erry screams in response, the sound muffled and bouncing as echoes.
Jora runs in a moment later, holding a sword, dressed in workout clothes, pale from a workout.
JORA
Kit? What's wrong?
She goes past, not waiting for a response, looking around for a threat, only looking back at Kit after.
KIT
(just lying there)
It's too quiet. It's the silence. The silence.
JORA
Stay with your sister. She'll distract you.
KIT
That's even worse.
JORA
(putting away the sword)
Get up.
Kit groans.
Jora comes over and picks Kit up, setting him on his feet.
When she turns to leave the room, he follows.


INT. Blocky structure - control floor
Nolan and Jora are in a room. A block is up against a wall. Another block is in the middle, low and blank. A gog is hanging off the ceiling.
Nolan is at the wall block, pushing his hands against the air over it. Screens flicker in and out of being above it.
JORA
It doesn't look like it's working.
NOLAN
This place is entirely devoid of sheep.
(he turns to Jora)
I don't think it will crush us, but we'll need to come up slowly.
JORA
A way out?
NOLAN
Possibly. Pack rations. Waterproof your bags. I don't know where we are.
JORA
How bad is it?
NOLAN
I don't know.
JORA
We need to get out.
NOLAN
Yes.

Sequestered

EXT. Soravian countryside - early morning
Coraline regains consciousness on a horse. Her arms are bound in front of her, wrists tied to elbows, and her hands are wrapped and tied up such that she cannot even move her fingers. She's sitting, held up by an arm across her chest under her arms, the rider holding her close and keeping her in rhythm as he posts with the horse's trot. Her head hurts horribly, a horrible throbbing strangeness resonating through it with each shift in motion. It's almost fuzzy.
The pain almost even drowns out the voices. Almost.
VARDAMAN
Don't fucking move.
CORALINE
What?
VARDAMAN
I know what you are. If you try anything, I will kill you.
CORALINE
Then why haven't you?
VARDAMAN
Your cat says you are different. That you may be the key to a cure. It is worth risking, but only to a point.
Coraline closes her eyes, trying to block out the light, the pain, the nausea. The hopelessness sinks in like a tightness in her chest.
VARDAMAN
How long have you been a Carrier?
CORALINE
(quietly)
Since before we met. The first time.
VARDAMAN
That was over four years ago.
CORALINE
(desperately)
Yes!
VARDAMAN
How are you still alive?
CORALINE
I don't know! If I knew, don't you think I'd do something? Use it to come up with a proper cure?
Vardaman shifts his hold, switching arms. Coraline tries to turn her head, and he tightens his grip, urging the horse to slow.
Coraline cries out in pain as the whole world spins around her, and tries and fails to vomit all over herself.
VARDAMAN
Don't try anything.
Coraline collapses back against him, just trying to breathe and not be any more sick for a bit.
CORALINE
Where are my cats? Where are you taking me?
Vardaman doesn't answer.
CORALINE
Where are my cats?
Coraline gets a vision of Vardaman's backside, but in the vision she? is on another horse, covered in pack, Thimble in front of her. Another horse still is also there, with an empty saddle.
AGATA
(mind voice)
We're here. Be careful. He may be able to hear us.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
So... no discussing our plans for world conquest. Definitely don't bring up the ferrets.
AGATA
(mind voice)
That would be bad, yes.
(after a pause)
He hasn't responded, but that may not mean much.
CORALINE
(mind voice, hopelessly)
I could just say his...
AGATA
(mind voice)
Don't.


EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
The horse slows to a stop, the other two horses pulling up alongside, their leads slack. Coraline looks around, surprised.
VARDAMAN
We need to rest and switch horses.
Vardaman dismounts quickly, taking Coraline down at the same time. He guides her over to a tree with a hand on her shoulder, holding the two ropes off her bound arms in his other, and then quickly ties one rope to some branches on one side, and the other to branches on the other. Neither is long enough that she can reach either knot.
Coraline sinks to the ground by the trunk as Vardaman goes to tend to the horses and shuffle their saddles, and her arms wind up suspended up over her head by the ropes. There is barely even enough slack for this.
She leans over and pukes, though little comes up, and wipes her mouth on her shoulder.
Vardaman doesn't turn his back on Coraline for more than very brief intervals, watching her closely.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You need healing. That blow should have killed you, and the damage remains very real.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I can't. I can't even... I don't have any energy at all.
AGATA
(mind voice)
But your voices are quieter. That's interesting.
CORALINE
(accidentally responding aloud)
Is it?
Vardaman turns sharply.
VARDAMAN
Are you speaking to someone?
CORALINE
Am I sober? I can't tell.
Vardaman frowns, and casts a quick spell, directing it over Coraline.
VARDAMAN
bury thunder.
It has no obvious effect.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You're not drunk. I'm not sure this qualifies as sober.
The good news is I don't think he can hear us. That wasn't even a listening spell.
Coraline takes a deep breath and concentrates to get the words out properly.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
And the bad news?
AGATA
(mind voice)
The bad news... the bad news is the entire situation at hand. There's no plan. I'm glad he's kept you alive so far, but I don't know how long this will last. You need an out.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What did you tell him?
AGATA
(mind voice)
The truth. One or two things slightly divested of the truth. Something else that had very, very little to do with the truth, but was convenient. The usual.
He thinks your name is Amadi?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
It is. Sort of.
Vardaman finishes off with the horses and sits down nearby, watching Coraline. Coraline stares past him vacantly, leaning back into the tree, focusing on listening to Agata.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You're a travelling lorekeeper, who just happens to have been a Carrier of the Death of Souls for years, with no clues as to why, nor what to do about it. And yet you can resist it.
You were in something of a scuffle in another town and all your stuff got stolen, but to put it rather bluntly, your pride prevented you from going back and getting it. Instead, you just charged headlong off into the hills. This is why all you had with you was a bag of coins and booze.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I have no pride.
AGATA
(mind voice)
The fact that you'd deny that makes it believable.
Thimble wants to go to you very badly. And we can't just put him back in the bag because Vardaman hasn't found the real one. Somehow you magicked the inner bag to show up lumpy on the outer bag, bypassing the middle bag entirely, and yet cats can go past. Was that intentional?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Do I look like a competent mage person to you?
AGATA
(mind voice)
You look like you're tied to a tree.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I feel like I'm dead. But more tired. And more in pain. Dead people don't have to put up with this. Why do I?
Just put Thimble back when Ense Vardaman isn't watching. Cats come and go. That's what they do.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Hmm. Maybe. Your bag's buried pretty deep. But he is watching you and not me.
Work on healing yourself. He's tied your arms like that in part so you can't use your hands to cast spells, but this isn't casting. And if this works, we might try using Mad Anna's flames to get you out later.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
And if it doesn't?
AGATA
(mind voice)
You'll probably die.


EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
Vardaman and Coraline are on a different horse now. They're heading west. Vardaman is again holding Coraline up in front of him, and keeping her from bouncing. Coraline is still trying not to be sick.
At some point the nausea becomes too much regardless, and she leans over to the side very suddenly, vomiting up a small amount of horrible liquid.
Vardaman's grip tightens momentarily, but other than that he doesn't respond.
Coraline leans back into him, breathing shallowly.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Why do I feel so sick?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Withdrawal? I'm not a healer. Go find out.
Coraline tries to focus through the pain and general fuzz to heal herself, but whatever it is she normally uses to do this, she just can't seem to find it. Her hand twitches like she should be using it.
She can feel Vardaman behind her. She can feel the horse beneath her. Other shapes linger around too, vague, further off. She reaches into Vardaman, sensing for his hurt, for anything she can use. Overall there is very little. A weariness, gnawing and uncertain, lingering in the back of his mind. A tiring, his arms beginning to ache from the strain of holding her up. And something else, too, unlike anything she's sensed in anyone else...
She focuses on his arms, tries to sooth the ache, pushing it down, flattening it out. It fades, just as she would have expected.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Now do that for yourself.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Yeah. I needed to see if I could do it at all, first. Me me me me me...
Coraline tries to focus inward on herself again. She's definitely there. She has a sense of that much. She tries to focus on her head, but she can't quite find it. She knows she has a head. She knows where it is, physically. But magically, with her healing senses, it seems to never quite be where she expects...
She chases it around for a bit regardless.
Suddenly Vardaman is lifting her off the horse again for another rest. It's later in the day. Birds are being loud and obnoxious around. Ash demons drift around the edges of the clearing, avoiding Vardaman.
Vardaman ties her arms up between two trees this time. Coraline sits, resting her head on her arm, vaguely wiping at her hair, trying to get it out of her face.
VARDAMAN
I am taking you to Abearanoth, the heart of my order. There, if there is help to be had, the Keepers will find it.
CORALINE
Isn't that kind of far away?
VARDAMAN
It is, but the Gateway in Soras will get us there in a matter of weeks.
CORALINE
Oh...
VARDAMAN
Will you last that long?
CORALINE
I'll be honest. I've felt better.
Vardaman gives her a look, and then goes back to tend to the horses, brushing them down, shuffling saddles, before stretching and resting himself. At some point Thimble mysteriously disappears.
Coraline goes back to trying to find her head, even as her shoulders, too, begin to ache. Her hands twitch from time to time.
At some point she falls asleep.


EXT. Soravian countryside - afternoon
They're riding again. It's later, the sun low, the wind carrying hints of frost. Coraline is drifting in and out of consciousness.
AGATA
(behind them)
Yoo hoo, mister Deathdealer guy! My human has to go to the bathroom.
Coraline startles and tries to give Agata an utterly surprised, bewildered look, except then she winds up puking instead.
VARDAMAN
Do you?
CORALINE
Er... yeah, kind of.
VARDAMAN
We'll rest, then.
They continue on a bit until they get to what apparently appears to Vardaman a satisfactory campsite, and to Coraline just like any other random patch of woods.
Vardaman ties Coraline to a tree, tends to the horses, and then comes back over and loosens the knots to the tree, allowing Coraline considerably more slack.
VARDAMAN
Do your business.
CORALINE
(holding up her still bound arms)
I need my hands.
VARDAMAN
I will not risk that.
CORALINE
What?!
AGATA
(mind voice)
Well, that's unfortunate.
CORALINE
But I can't... my clothes...
Coraline gestures a bit toward her legs, or as much as she can with her arms bound. Which isn't much.
Vardaman sighs and comes around behind Coraline, reaches up under her skirts, and pulls her undergarments down by her hips for her, trying to make it as not awkward as possible.
It is still very awkward.
VARDAMAN
There. Go.
Coraline goes and squats behind the tree, but Vardaman follows, watching her carefully.
When Coraline finishes, Vardaman goes and pulls her undergarments back up. He then ties her to a different tree again as usual.
Coraline scrunches up as much as she can against the trunk and starts sobbing.
Agata pads over, climbs onto Coraline's knees, and leans into her, purring.


EXT. Soravian countryside - night
They stop for the night, and Vardaman ties Coraline to a tree, her bound arms suspended above her head as she sits against the trunk.
Snow drifts down idly around them.
CORALINE
If we're stopping for the night, can't I at least lie down? Or put my arms down?
VARDAMAN
No.
CORALINE
Why? What would I do? Magically untie this?
VARDAMAN
There is that possibility. As long as I can see your arms, I know you are secure.
CORALINE
Glargghhle blugh. It hurts. It's cold.
Vardaman wraps her arms in a cloth, tightly, and drapes a blanket over her legs. He sits down on another blanket nearby.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You showed yourself to be a mage. I guess this is the consequence.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
But I don't even use my hands for my magic...
AGATA
(mind voice)
Other mages do. Your patent refusal to do any of that is probably the main reason why you're still so bad at magic.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
It looks so stupid. And it is doable without... I don't need to waggle my hands and say ridiculous words.
AGATA
(mind voice)
But you could. It would be easier.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Perkele. I don't wanna.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Don't worry. I'm reasonably sure pointless stubbornness is a prerequisite for being a witch. And now it may just be your salvation.

Small escape

EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
There is a light dusting of snow over the ground and trees, and Coraline's blanket. She wakes up cold and stiff as Vardaman unties her from the tree and hauls her back to her feet, giving her a quick pat-down. She cries out in pain as she lowers her arms.
Vardaman puts away the blanket and feeds Coraline a tortilla wrapped in a paper.
Coraline gnaws on the tortilla, biting it awkwardly as Vardaman holds her arms. She nearly pukes it up again, but manages to hold it down.
Agata falls off a horse.
The voices whisper in and out of the cold, dull, wrong.
They get going again in silence, Vardaman again holding Coraline in front of him. Her arms ache fiercely, especially her shoulders. She concentrates on the pain, using it to transition from moment to moment, following it home, tracing out the figure of her shape.


EXT. Soravian countryside - later morning
The snow melts quickly, leaving everything brown and damp. Coraline continues trying to find her head, chasing it around vaguely, while Vardaman does all the work of riding for her. The world is vague and fuzzy, not all there.
She finds her arms and heals the stiffness and soreness in those, and that, at least, is a relief. But still her head refuses to be found.
Agata grumbles to herself on one of the other horses.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
This isn't working.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You seem better, though. Maybe you'll survive anyway.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Better still sucks. My head bloody aches. I haven't had anything but water, and yet I still feel drunk.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Your life sucks.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Oh, shut up.
They continue on. The day goes on. The woods break up in favour of rolling hills. Frost moulds grow across the rocks and trees, creeping slowly. Coraline watches them vaguely, wondering what they might become.
Another voice resonates in Coraline's head, like Agata's, but this one is male, someone she does not recognise.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
Keeper. You are summoned to the Grey Lobby. Please, follow my voice, and join us.
CORALINE
Eh?
AGATA
(mind voice)
I heard that too. Someone's in our heads. Someone else.
VARDAMAN
What is it?
CORALINE
I don't know. I thought... I thought I saw something.
(mind voice)
Who? Grey Lobby? That sounds familiar, but...
AGATA
(mind voice)
No idea. It's definitely not a witch thing. Witches don't do lobbies.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
Follow my voice.
Somehow Coraline does, driftingly, doing a sort of half-side-stepping in her mind, and then suddenly she's somewhere else.


INT. Grey Lobby
The Grey Lobby is a large, grey room, with high ceilings, sort of tasteful (grey) decor, several patently uninteresting doors, and sofas, armchairs, and low tables scattered around a large open area in the centre, all of which are grey.
Coraline finds herself standing on a sofa, wearing blue. Several other folks are also loitering about randomly, a few of them heading for the centre, where a cowled man in dark grey robes is standing, his arms folded in his sleeves.
In the background, Coraline can still vaguely feel her physical surroundings - the cool morning air, the Deathdealer holding her, the motions of the horse. Somehow, her head is working better, here.
Coraline hops off the sofa, stretching her arms and fingers, and rolls her shoulders.
CORALINE
(loudly)
Gods bloody dammit.
A few people give her surprised looks. Coraline ignores them.
Agata jumps onto her head.
AGATA
Interesting. We cannot use the mind voice here, because it seems that is how we are here at all.
CORALINE
I want my arms back for real. This is just making me even more painfully aware than I already was how deprived I am of my arms.
A nearby WOMAN IN RED comes over.
WOMAN IN RED
Hello. You're new here, aren't you?
CORALINE
Er, yes. Apparently. Where is here?
WOMAN IN RED
Here is the City of our Lord. The Grey Lobby, our home and sanctuary as his Keepers.
CORALINE
Our Lord?
WOMAN IN RED
Kyrule, of course.
AGATA
I didn't know Kyrule was your god.
CORALINE
Neither did I. Did I? Wait, what?
Grey Lobby! That's... Keepers. We're Keepers.
What.
The woman in red gives Coraline a curious look.
AGATA
Don't mind her. She got hit in the head with a shovel the other day. And I just don't pay much attention. She's my witch, not someone... important.
WOMAN IN RED
Oh, er, I'm sorry to hear that. Are you all right?
CORALINE
No.
WOMAN IN RED
Usually a Keeper learns of the Lobby as part of her apprenticeship, and even enters a few times at her master's side. You never did?
CORALINE
Er... I'm afraid my master died unexpectedly. There's probably a lot I'm missing.
WOMAN IN RED
But the stories are safe?
CORALINE
(after a slightly too long pause)
I guard what I know.
WOMAN IN RED
(nodding)
That is all we can do. Come, let's see why we've been called.
The woman heads toward the centre, and Coraline follows.
Around them, quite a few others have also appeared in the meantime.
AGATA
(quietly, in Coraline's ear)
Died unexpectedly?
Coraline slows, hanging back a bit.
CORALINE
(muttering)
Pretty sure saying 'I actually found all this in a book I stole out of a library and never was anyone's apprentice' would have tipped her off I'm not quite...
AGATA
Not the real deal?
CORALINE
I... don't even know.
AGATA
Well, this would explain why you knew the Deathdealer's name.
Coraline grumbles.
CORALINE
(quietly)
How the hell did I forget this?
Agata lightly bites Coraline's ear.
AGATA
You haven't been here before.
CORALINE
Er... no. I just read about it, you know? But it did say...
There are maybe thirty of them altogether, and they all take a bit to gather around the centre. Coraline stands vacantly next to some others, trying and failing miserably to look like a normal person with a cat on her head.
The dark-robed man, the VOICE OF KYRULE, faces them, waiting. He nods when everyone seems to be assembled and paying attention.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Welcome, Keepers. For those of you who are new, I am the Voice of the Eternal.
You have been summoned because you are all in danger. The secrets you guard are at risk. There is a plot against the Eternal, seeking to take down the known Voices within the worlds. Already, two have been killed, their murderers using means to prevent their souls passage into the afterlife we guard so dear. I do not need to tell you all, do not make yourselves known, for the secrets you guard within your Stories already warrant this. But be wary, too, of those who might seek out Voices of any kind. Should you speak for the Eternal as his Voices, know who it is you are speaking to.
A GUY IN PURPLE raises his hand slightly.
GUY IN PURPLE
Hi, yes.
Should we investigate? I mean, if we think there might be something odd going on.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Use your best judgement. But remember your priorities - guard yourselves, first and foremost.
The incidents so far have been localised to Cerris, Abaeranoth specifically, but this may not remain the case. It is not known what we are up against, and that alone should indicate the seriousness of the situation.
AGATA
(quietly)
Two isn't a very meaningful number.
CORALINE
So what is known? How were they killed? Are we certain it wasn't a coincidence that they were voices of the... Eternal?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Means were not consistent. One man was poisoned, the other's throat slit. Both deaths were quick and efficient, inflicted without hesitation. And it was no coincidence. Previous and subsequent unsuccessful attempts have made this clear.
MAN IN BLACK
Are the other Keepers in danger? The Keepers of Might and Magic?
VOICE OF KYRULE
All Voices are. The targets thus far have been Messengers, a sage, a Deathdealer First, and the Cerrissian High Priest. You are guarded for now by your secrecy, but the intent is clear.
BOY IN GREEN
They killed a Deathdealer?!
VOICE OF KYRULE
He survived. A Messenger and the sage were not so fortunate.
MAN IN BLACK
Might prevails. It could be a sign.
GUY IN PURPLE
It could be a coincidence.
WOMAN IN BROWN
It could be anything. We don't know. That's the problem.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Indeed.
Go, and be wary. As the Keepers of Stories, you guide us all. For all who may never know your names, thank you.
The Voice bows.
Several of the Keepers just vanish. A few bow back. A few loiter around, clumping up with others, chatting. A couple head toward the Voice to talk with him directly.
Coraline just stands there for a bit staring at the Voice dubiously.
AGATA
Somehow I think you've got more immediate problems than this.
CORALINE
Somehow I'm still not even sure this applies to me. Like at all.
I feel like the only dog at a llama orgy.
The boy in green comes over and stares up at Agata.
BOY IN GREEN
Are you a witch?
AGATA
Yes.
CORALINE
I'm a cat.
BOY IN GREEN
Coool.
CORALINE
Do you not have witches where you're from?
BOY IN GREEN
We don't even have magic. It's not allowed.
(conspiratorially)
I do it anyway.
CORALINE
Good. Be careful, though. Magic's nice, but it's not the only thing that matters.
BOY IN GREEN
Yeah? What's more important?
CORALINE
Being able to move your damn arms.
AGATA
Libraries.
CORALINE
And libraries.
BOY IN GREEN
Why can't you move your arms?
CORALINE
I'm a bit tied up. Which is actually really annoying because I've got something of a head injury and I can't seem to find it without my hands. Why the hell are hands so important?
BOY IN GREEN
You've got your hands here. Why don't you just find it here?
CORALINE
Er, that... I didn't think of that.
(she slips her fingers through her hair)
Can we do magic here?
BOY IN GREEN
Sure. It's where I practice.
Coraline gives him a surprised look, and then focuses on her head again. Suddenly it's right there. Magically, she knows exactly where it is, and she can feel the wrongness and imbalance in her brain, reaching like fingers. In a moment she rights it, with hardly an effort.
The voices flood back in the same moment, almost overwhelming.
CORALINE
Oh shit!
Coraline sidesteps out of the Grey Lobby and back into the horrible glaring reality of her own body.


EXT. Soravian countryside - noonish
The voices are much louder here, a cacophony of noise thundering through her mind, pushing the darkness inward, overwhelming.
Coraline pushes back, focusing on the ground in front of her, the ache in her shoulders, trying to remember who she is, and for the moment, the voices die back. A little.
She's sitting on the ground, tied to another tree, her arms held up over her head. Vardaman is standing nearby, watching her, though his head is cocked like he's listening for something else as well.
CORALINE
E.. ghn. Vardaman. Vardaman! I need my bag!
VARDAMAN
Why?
CORALINE
The bottle. It's shalott. It... it keeps the voices down. Please.
VARDAMAN
It's getting worse. Voices... and the hunger, too?
CORALINE
It's wearing off! As long as I stay drunk, it keeps the voices quiet, and I work. I function like I'm a girl.
VARDAMAN
Are you always drunk?
CORALINE
I try to. I have to. When it wears off, the blackness returns. I feel shapes, lights in the dark. It's so strong, I'm not myself, because it's so strong...
The voices are returning with force, the blackness spreading around like gleaming homecoming.
Coraline's eyes darken, a blackness spreading over her irises so that little white remains. She strains her arms against her bindings, digging them into her flesh.
CORALINE
(quietly)
No. I know who I am. I know who I am. You can't take that away from me. I'm not... this...
Somewhere, in the darkness behind her, Agata screams.


INT. Grey Lobby
Coraline sinks to the floor, falling on her back, and stares at the ceiling. The voices are quieter here, but still huge, overwhelming, pressing down like cloying black around all the edges of the grey. The pain in her arms is her focus, a brightness staving off the dark...
CORALINE
I know who I am. I'm me. I won't die like this.
The Voice of Kyrule kneels beside her, placing a hand on her arm. He smells of cats, and overgrooming.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You're Coraline. Focus on my voice, and remember who you are. Coraline Henderson.
CORALINE
I'm Coraline. I'm me. Karoliina.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Focus. Focus. You will not lose yourself today.
Somewhere, behind it all, sand trickles into the black.
Coraline chokes, and the Voice draws back.


EXT. Soravian countryside - noonish
Coraline coughs again, choking on the vodka. Vardaman is holding the bottle to her mouth, trying to get her to drink. Some of it spills down her face, vibrantly cold, splashing her clothes, and then she gulps it down, chugging at the bottle until he pulls it away.
Coraline leans back against the tree, coughing. Her throat is burning, her head throbbing. Blackness is everywhere, uncertain. The voices clamour, and waver.
After a bit the voices begin to fade as the whole world resumes its fuzz and the vodka properly hits her head.
Vardaman puts the vodka away, and then draws a sword, turning. On the blade, near the hilt, gleams the dark skull and mask of Kyrule.
Coraline lies against the tree, exhausted, but she still notices the sword.
AGATA
(mind voice)
The Deathdealer's right. You need to go to Abearanoth.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Not with him.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Of course not.
A newcomer is staring at them, a HUNTER standing between the trees, with bow and arrows.
VARDAMAN
Go on your way, friend. This is Deathdealer business, and not your concern.
HUNTER
That woman, why is she tied up like that?
VARDAMAN
That is not your concern.
CORALINE
(quietly)
Just go. He's right, it doesn't...
HUNTER
What?
CORALINE
(louder)
It's all right.
HUNTER
Are you on his side?
CORALINE
I'm on my side. And my side doesn't want to see you killed over this. Please, worry about your own life.
The hunter looks between Coraline and Vardaman and then shakes his head and leaves.
VARDAMAN
Your side? What side is that, exactly?
CORALINE
(sinking back tiredly)
My left side.
VARDAMAN
Interesting that you would be making jokes even now.
CORALINE
If I don't have jokes, then what in all the worlds do I have?
Vardaman watches Coraline calculatingly for a moment.
VARDAMAN
Are you still able to travel?
CORALINE
Will you carry me?
Vardaman pulls Coraline to her feet by the arms, gives her a quick pat-down, unties the ropes from the tree, and guides her back over to the horses.
Coraline leans against the horse of the moment, feeling its warmth, before Vardaman hoists her up.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You know he probably will if it comes to it.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Perkele. I screwed up.
AGATA
(mind voice)
And what else could you have done? Secreted a bottle up your sleeve? Gotten pre-drunk and died? I'm sure that would have worked out great.
You're still alive, Names. That counts. That counts for a lot.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
'Names'?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Aren't you, though?

Madness

INT. Blocky structure - gateway floor
Erry stares at the Gateway, watching it, waiting again for it to come on. It glows vaguely, but other than that, does nothing.


INT. Blocky structure - adjournment floor
Erry walks through the dark without a light, holding the stuffed moose closely. She makes her way by memory, following the ghost of a sound of something not quite there. Laughter almost echos around her. Tiny footsteps disappear into the silence, scuttlingly.
A light rises slowly out of the floor.
Erry shrieks and runs away.
Nolan emerges from a shaft in the floor a moment later.
NOLAN
Woogly.
Nolan turns and heads off in the opposite direction.


INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
A stack of large blocks is stacked up against a partially open wall door at the end of a section of corridor. Nolan heads back for the other end, goes into a room, and emerges a moment later pushing another block, as tall as he is.
He proceeds to push the block the entire length of the corridor, tips it up onto another block, and then heads back toward the other end again, goes back into the room, and emerges pushing another block.
He pushes this block the length of the corridor as well, and leaves it at the base of the stack.
He heads back and does this a few more times, until one of the blocks suddenly hits an obstacle partway as he pushes it down the corridor. A gog watches from a nearby wall.
Nolan stops and walks around the block to investigate.
Kit is standing on the other side, looking a bit confused.
KIT
What are you doing?
NOLAN
Stacking blocks.
KIT
Why?
NOLAN
To stack them.
Kit stares at Nolan.
Nolan stares at Kit.
This goes on for a bit.
KIT
I see.
Kit clearly does not see, but turns and leaves.
Nolan resumes pushing and stacking blocks.


INT. Blocky structure - adjournment floor
Nolan is in a room holding a block under an arm. Blocks are around, forming cabinets and shelves.
Nolan selects various blocks off of shelves and inserts them into the block under his arm. Sometimes he removes them from the block under his arm. Sometimes he removes others from the block under his arm.
Nolan stops and stares at the block expectantly for a bit.
The block does nothing.
Nolan sets the block down on another block and takes a step back.
The block explodes, chucking smaller blocks in every direction.


INT. Blocky structure - gateway floor
Kit, Erry, Nolan, and Jora are in a conference room. A large block is in the middle like a table. Small blocks are around it like chairs. Kit, Erry, and Jora are all seated at the table; Nolan is standing at the head. Two gogs are hanging off the ceiling.
Nolan climbs onto the table and glares down its length.
NOLAN
(loudly)
Sheep.
Kit, Erry, Jora, and the gogs all kind of stare at him blankly.
Nolan marches down the length of the table and out the door wall.


INT. Blocky structure - lodgement floor
Kit and Nolan are in a room. Jora is standing nearby.
NOLAN
Can you breathe underwater?
KIT
There's a spell for that.
NOLAN
Can you prevent dissolved gases from coming out of solution in the body?
KIT
What?
NOLAN
Can you cast spells while drowning?
KIT
I... uh... I guess?
NOLAN
Can you prevent us from being crushed by the weight of an entire ocean?
KIT
What the crap are you talking about?
(he looks up uncertainly)
Wait, you don't mean we're underwater now, are you?
NOLAN
Can you prevent us from drowning, suffering blood pressure complications, or being crushed by the weight of an entire ocean?
KIT
Uh... maybe.
NOLAN
Good.


INT. Blocky structure - lodgement floor
Jora is sitting on a block, facing away, staring at the wall. Erry comes in from the door behind her, holding the moose, and stands there for a bit, trying to figure it out.
ERRY
What are you doing?
JORA
(in Nolan's voice)
Waiting.
Erry stops, confused.
ERRY
...Nolan?
JORA
(in Nolan's voice)
Yes?
Erry comes around and looks at Jora from the front, except it turns out it's actually Nolan wearing Jora's clothes, with a gog on his head.


INT. Blocky structure - gateway floor
It's later, another time, and yet the same. Erry is staring at the Gateway again, still watching it, still waiting. But still, nothing happens.
Erry glances off to the side, toward the wall. There is noone there.


INT. Blocky structure - control floor
Kit is in a room, going through blocks, poking them with magic.
Nolan comes up to the open door and peers in.
NOLAN
I'm going to shut the door.
KIT
Whatever.
Nolan backs out and the wall door shuts.
Kit continues doing what he's doing.
This goes on for awhile.
Eventually Kit finishes off and heads to the door. He stands in the circle to open it.
Nothing happens.
Kit tries harder, actually focusing on opening the door.
Nothing continues to happen.
KIT
(yelling)
Nolan?
Nolan, this isn't funny!
There's no response.
KIT
(looking around)
This isn't funny, right? There's nothing here that would objectively qualify as funny...
Um. No, I don't think so. Okay.
Kit goes back and pokes at some of the things he was doing before again, and then goes back to the wall door and tries that. Again.
Nothing continues to happen.
Kit steps back out of the circle of glyphs.
The room bursts into light. Shapes grow out of the various blocks, forming far more affordant forms, making chairs look like chairs, desks look usable, and shelves and cabinets show up as shelves and cabinets with handles and labels and suddenly incredibly clear usage patterns. Screens light up around the walls, showing various output and controls, as well as scenes that could be almost anywhere, but moving, alive: a snowy winter forest with the ruins of an ancient city, what might be underwater in some lake, a prairie with a huge thunderstorm moving in. An elaborate chandelier appears overhead, with smaller light fixtures inset neatly into the detailed trim around the edges.
KIT
Woah.
Kit takes a moment staring around, taking it all in, and then runs around poking bits with magic and fingers, peering at various things from all angles. None of the basic shapes have changed, and yet everything is much clearer what it actually is, and how it needs to be interacted with, and he tries it all, going from thing to thing, opening drawers, swiping over consoles, turning various lights on and off. He peers at the magic behind it all, poking at that as well, trying to figure out how it works, following the flows to track the power.
He does this all very excitedly for several minutes.
Then the wall door starts to open, and it all goes out again, the room returning to its base, dark, blocky state.
KIT
Aww...
NOLAN
Did you try to open the door at any point?
KIT
Er, yeah.
NOLAN
Did anything happen?
KIT
Not with the door. Room turned on for a bit, though.
NOLAN
So if I hold it shut from the outside, it cannot be opened from the inside at all?
This is an incredibly poor design choice.
KIT
Ya think?


INT. Blocky structure - Gateway floor
Erry is staring at the Gateway, watching, waiting. It does nothing, does not come on, but still she watches. She ignores the wall. Its whispering has nothing to offer.
The gateway stands, quiet, humming, glowing.
Erry's head begins to droop, and she jerks awake and glances toward the wall.
The Gateway flickers to life.
Erry holds her moose out in front of her like a shield.
A duck waddles through the Gateway.
Erry flees.
Nolan walks in and collects the duck.

Explanations

EXT. Soravian countryside - day
The hours pass slowly and painfully. The hills roll in and out of forests as they slowly gain elevation, continuing westward and north, approaching the mountains. Ash demons and ghostlights flit about, but flee at their approach. Vardaman continues to hold Coraline in front of him as they ride on, tying her to trees when they rest, giving her vodka periodically with her food. He does not seem to sleep himself.
Coraline's bindings only become more painful, even as she continues to heal her arms from time to time.
For a time she avoids it, just watching the scenery as it passes, thinking, but then she slips back into the Grey Lobby regardless, just because there's nothing else she can do.


INT. Grey Lobby
It's much as before, but now nearly empty. A WOMAN IN BLACK is sprawled on a sofa, reading, a leg hanging over the side. Her clothes look oddly modern, but not, with leggings and zippers and slip-on shoes, and lots of ruffles. She looks up momentarily when Coraline appears nearby, but then returns to her book.
Agata hops onto Coraline's shoulders.
Coraline heads vaguely toward the open area in the centre. All the furniture is facing it, forming vague circles around it.
She stops at the edge, and the Voice appears beside her.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Keeper. It is good to see you well. Come, we have much to discuss.
Agata gives him a dubious look. Coraline stares blankly.
VOICE OF KYRULE
You were right to guard the nature of your Legacy. The other Keepers, they are led to believe that all Keepers of Stories are as they are, their stories and mantle passed down from master to apprentice as an oral tradition. It is for this that their stories are incomplete, and varied, but they are also safe.
CORALINE
By which you mean they're not all stored in some book any random nutjob can walk away with.
VOICE OF KYRULE
In essence.
CORALINE
Since that's what I did.
(to Agata)
I did that.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Your book is the single exception that defines the rule, a compendium of all the given stories, the public and the real, the fragments and all the variants. Your existence as a Keeper is an inconsistency that cannot be explained without the very stories you guard, and yet of all of the Eternal's Keepers, your role is the most important.
Coraline raises a hand.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Yes?
CORALINE
I'm a librarian.
VOICE OF KYRULE
The Apostate has often been a librarian. Someone who could find a book among many others and see its importance, and see the stories within for what they are. You were chosen by what you are and what you chose to do. You have questioned, and hunted for answers. You have guarded the stories, you have kept them secret, as well as their very nature. You have even guarded yourself, at great personal expense, when you could use your status to avoid the situation entirely.
It is more than we could ask. It is everything.
Coraline stares at the Voice even more blankly.
CORALINE
As much as I love apostasy, blasphemy, and all things heretical, you know I'm getting eaten by a horrible dark something, right? And that's the only reason I even got involved in any of this...
VOICE OF KYRULE
And yet you are involved. You are a Voice, and all faithful may heed your words. You are a Keeper, and you alone guard our most precious stories.
And should you succumb to the Death of Souls, those stories may be lost forever.
CORALINE
Well I don't bloody want to, but don't you think if that winds up happening it'll not exactly have been up to me?!
VOICE OF KYRULE
You see how important it is that you protect yourself.
CORALINE
And how am I supposed to do that, exactly? I've got this Deathdealer tied me up so securely I can't even piss right now.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Do what you must. If it comes to it, you may take his life for yours.
Do not tell him who you are. It will not end well.
CORALINE
What? Isn't he trusted?
VOICE OF KYRULE
It is the difference between trust and security. Ense Vardaman is trusted, but he does not need to know.
AGATA
If he gets eaten by zombies, they might find out.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Yes.
CORALINE
This is crazy...
AGATA
So why haven't you stopped it? Why haven't you spoken your Deathdealer's name and commanded him to let you go, or even help you?
CORALINE
I... don't know. It doesn't seem... I'm not really a Keeper, am I?
VOICE OF KYRULE
You are.
CORALINE
Because I stole that book?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Because you read it.
CORALINE
So what, anyone reads it and they become a Keeper of Stories, just like that?
VOICE OF KYRULE
No. It is for you, and you alone. Others will not be able to read its words until you pass it on. Its magic protects it.
CORALINE
...why? Why me?
VOICE OF KYRULE
You found it. You dug up the references, and put together the research. It was intended for a librarian, and a librarian you were.
CORALINE
I'm not a follower of Kyrule, though.
VOICE OF KYRULE
That was never a requirement. Though should you decide to use your status at any point, it would generally be best if you appeared to be.
CORALINE
What... fake it?
AGATA
Be professional.
CORALINE
Shit.
Off to the side, the boy in green jumps from sofa to sofa, tossing around swaths of colour, which shimmer and fade behind him. He whoops, misses a sofa, and falls to the floor.
The boy jumps back up again a moment later, looking around a bit in embarrassment. When he sees the Voice and Coraline looking toward him, he waves.
BOY IN GREEN
(calling out across the room)
Needs more colour!
The boy starts casting another spell, working his fingers in intricate patterns around its shape.
BOY IN GREEN
(muttering)
stone sun thunder fire...
VOICE OF KYRULE
The Deslau mage will almost certainly die for his magic, in time.
CORALINE
But he still does it...
VOICE OF KYRULE
Wouldn't you die for your libraries?
CORALINE
A single one, probably not. Losing one library doesn't generally change much in the long run, since you can rebuild...
But libraries in general, as a concept, as a thing... yes. You take away a people's history and knowledge, you've taken away their soul.
It's when they burn their own library down that you know they're truly doomed.
The boy in green finishes off his spell, weaving in the last brilliant tendrils. It hovers for a moment, then fizzles out.
He gives it a disappointed look.
A dragon form bursts out around the boy in sparkles, moving as he does, and he immediately perks up.
BOY IN GREEN
(loudly)
Hah! I am might incarnate!
WOMAN IN BLACK
(looking up briefly)
Oh, pipe down.
CORALINE
Is Ense Vardaman right? Would the Keepers of Magic be able to do anything?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Unknown. But you already have the relevant stories, even the secret ones. Shalias, of all who were cursed, came the closest to a solution, and she did not use our means.
AGATA
You mean she used necromancy.
CORALINE
She would have had to give up her soul to stop it.
VOICE OF KYRULE
And it might have worked. It also might not have. We do not know if she chose correctly, only that she chose.
The nature and source of the Death of Souls eludes even the eyes of the Eternal. This is the very heart of the problem, and why, beyond even your role as the Apostate, you are so important.
CORALINE
How... important?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Understand. Ense Vardaman is a Keeper of Might, the most honoured of all our Deathdealers. His worth is greater than all others within the worlds combined. He would have been High Priest, had his strength not been needed elsewhere.
And yet you are worth more.
CORALINE
Oh...
AGATA
So if she's so important, why aren't you helping? Why is this the first time you're even talking to her? Why haven't you called off your pet Keeper?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Do you really think we've done nothing, cat? Her very life inspires hope, the potential that there may yet be something that we simply have not seen.
AGATA
So that's a no.
VOICE OF KYRULE
(to Coraline)
Do not think you have been alone. You have been watched and guarded since you first appeared in Hadrin, even before you took on the role of the Apostate. You were granted the coin as a marker, something normally only given to Deathdealers, for you showed their same strength in you.
But your existence, as Apostate or Carrier, is not something the world can know. You must act in secrecy.
Kill Ense Vardaman. Preserve yourself.
CORALINE
And then what?
The Voice shakes his head.
CORALINE
So... basically I'm doomed.
VOICE OF KYRULE
That is very likely.
AGATA
Heh.
CORALINE
And you've got nothing else I can use.
The Voice doesn't respond.
CORALINE
You do, don't you?
VOICE OF KYRULE
There is a vain possibility. A half measure. Attempts by the priests in Abearanoth to use powers they do not understand, that have already led only to more loss.
CORALINE
But could it help?
VOICE OF KYRULE
It could end you outright.
AGATA
That's not a no.
There's a long pause.
VOICE OF KYRULE
We don't know. There is no reason why it should. There is no reason for it to have ended so poorly already.
AGATA
That you know of.
CORALINE
Okay, that's somewhat disconcerting.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Indeed.
CORALINE
Humour me, will you?
VOICE OF KYRULE
When the Eternal slew the god of dreams long ago, her form was shattered, pieces left behind. Some of these were kept as relics by the ancient priests, and by arbitrary testing, have been shown to exhibit unusual interactions when placed with black soulstones.
A Deathdealer was sent to test it on a live Carrier.
CORALINE
And?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Initially the Carrier did become more lucid upon contact. Then the Death of Souls exploded around him, turning dozens in one moment. He and many others in the outbreak were later drawn to you, after which you know the rest.
Ense Vardaman has a fragment of this god with him as well. He was not told why, or what it is, but you may be able to get it from him if you so choose.
CORALINE
Yeah, I think maybe I'll pass on that one.
AGATA
I suppose you'll need me to get it for you.
CORALINE
Um...
(sighing)
Whatever. But if this kills me, I will be very irate.
AGATA
Sure. Even though you really could just kill him, and then take it yourself.
CORALINE
Agata...
AGATA
It's true. You healed him, you could kill him just as simple.
CORALINE
That's not what I... nevermind.


EXT. Soravian countryside - evening
Camp is set. Coraline is tied to another tree, blanketed, her arms aching, tied up over her head. Vardaman is watching her.
Agata climbs onto Vardaman's knees and peers up at him.
AGATA
I could kill you, you know.
VARDAMAN
I'd very much like to see you try.
Agata stares at him for a moment.
AGATA
Meh.
Agata curls up on his lap and starts grooming herself, though she stops momentarily to peer at Coraline.
CORALINE
A lot of things could kill me. You're not special.
AGATA
(mind voice)
He's got deep pockets, three bags, and a lot of other gear. Am I supposed to search it all?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I... don't know. I don't suppose you could just sit on him all night and have it come out like a slug.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You sure you don't want to just kill him? It'd make it a lot easier to search his stuff. And then you could sleep, too.
But you're not going to, are you?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I don't know.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Your god says it's okay. And we're in the middle of nowhere, so who'd know?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Me?
I suppose I've got no trouble killing when there's good reason. This, though, this just doesn't seem like a good reason. He's technically on the same side we are, he's a decent guy, he's had good cause for everything he's done to me... as horrible as it is, I can't really fault it.
I just need it to stop. I need to get away.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Yes. You do.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Also Kyrule's not my god. We've been over this.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You sure about that?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Uh... no. But still.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Well, it's his god.
I'll send a bag cat to check his bags.
Coraline sighs, and drifts slowly into sleep.

Replication

INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
Kit tries to repeat the room-turned-on incident, trying to get the lights and shapes to show up first in other rooms, then even the same one as the first time. Nolan locks him in, Kit throws around magic and goes in and out of the circle of glyphs.
KIT
(gesturing more than speaking)
kagamokuao. muta. kiuen zitukua.
Nothing happens.
They try it in other rooms, on other floors.
They try locking Nolan in, with Kit outside.
Kit throws around more magic inside, poking around at various things and nothing, tossing raw magic at the walls and blocks.
Kit and Nolan both have Jora lock them inside, and try various combinations of trying to open the door and Kit throwing magic.
KIT
atakalo. muta adëaka.
Nothing happens. No lights come on. No reasonable shapes or opulent decor burst into existence.


INT. Blocky structure - Gateway floor
They don't really try with the Gateway chamber. Jora stands outside the room in the circle. Nolan stands inside the room in a corner, calculating. Kit kicks at the Gateway with the toe of his shoe, and half-heartedly tries opening the door, just as he had with every other room.
For a brief flicker, the room comes alive. Light fixtures burst into light, decorations bloom out of the walls. Consoles and options and screens appear around the gate, behind and before. A welcome carpet appears on the floor.
Then it's gone.
No matter how hard they try, they cannot replicate it again.



(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...




(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...

Part 4: Define the open skies

Every prison takes its certain shape. Some cages are gilded, some barren, some empty and dead. Some exist in wilderness, in solitude under the open sky. Some are clear, others not so much. A lifetime spent without purpose. A purgatory awaiting death. A sentence suspended. Painful care taken at every turn.

And yet the bird still sings. It pushes at its cage. It dismantles, slowly, the very nature of its prison.

And then you see the caged bird fly.

Notes:

  1. In the world of double realities, one narrative is public, and one is real.
  2. Eapherod has been here all along.
  3. None of this happened the first time.
  4. Different things happened the first time.
  5. Events may repeat themselves, precede their causes, and take different forms in different stories. They are the same events.
  6. Some languages transcend meaning. They cannot be translated, for they simply are. These are the languages of gods, and of darker things.
  7. The Dark Sister is neither living nor dead.

Passage

EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
Coraline Dreams.
In the dream, the insects are roaring. The world is a field of green, surrounding you in thick shrubbery, level to your hips, soft, bristling, wet. The roaring is the trees around, lush and tall, full of fronds and hanging vines. The roaring is the cliffs ahead, slick and glistening. The roaring is the waterfall, torrential, towering, falling down, down, down, up into the mists above, its edge highlighted only by the glow of the sky. And more above. Layer cake. Towering mountains, roaring beneath the giant grasping hands of frothy white, reaching out in fingers.
The trolls are in the trees. You're running, you have to, running to the end of the field, toward the fingers, the one side not bounded by trees. Here the mist is thickest, floating into your arms and face, trickling down your clothes, and the precipice comes up suddenly, looming, reaching up as you jump, in the one brief moment of weightlessness before the world remembers its rules.
And then you're falling. You're wet, deaf, and falling, cliffs rushing past, hills making strange spires, spearing the mist. Everything is bright, glowing, but the falling doesn't stop. It's clearest here. The wrist below is reaching. The palm is outstretched. Twisting. Gleaming. You reach out with your own hand, and it's a match, precise and exacting. Hand for hand. Palm for palm.
And then it hits you.
You're standing at the shore, the water lapping hungrily at your feet. You're so close now. You can feel it. You just have to keep going, and not fall. The small river stones shift and warble as you step tentatively along the shore, grinding them against each other. The ground is hollow, the water clear and green and blue. The lush foliage hangs back overhead, dripping, whispering, warning. Shapes loom in the shadows.
Trolls.
No.
You're tired of running. You turn back to the trees, dark and green, full of shivering shadows.
The trees shiver, rustling.
They aren't trees.
You're running, fleeing the shivers, bounding from rocks to logs, slipping, scraping, flitting past. The waterfall looms, a single finger, roaring, shifting, fading into a memory of a memory, greyer than green. Its torrent slows, and the other fingers too fall silent. There is only the one. The one. The
A single frond of fern trails across your arm, depositing beads of wetness in a red smear, painting like a maiden's hair. You stretch it out and the pattern shifts, changing, writing. Hello World.
The river narrows. The cliffs are covered in ferns, in clumps and tangles.
You step onto the water, and it ripples outward with each footfall, building crossing patterns behind and before. Step, step, step. The narrow cliffs are a corridor, dark, echoing. Silent, as the sky closes overhead. Straight, as the ripples cease. Dark, as the chatter rises to a scream.
A door, vast and grand, looms out of the gloom ahead, as the dream begins to fade.
You need to get to it, you need...
And then it's gone.


The morning is wet and overcast. This only makes it worse as Coraline awakens in the usual misery, her arms screaming in pain, her back and legs aching.
Vardaman is squatted over her, holding her head up with his hand, peering at her closely.
CORALINE
Yes?
VARDAMAN
How do you bear it? This must be agony for you, on top of the horror you already face...
CORALINE
That's a stupid question. Either I bear it or what, hmm? What exactly else am I supposed to do, go mad?
Vardaman stands.
VARDAMAN
I've done this once before, restraining a necromancer who we needed to keep alive so that his minions would not awaken. He would not stop struggling. He cried out and screamed, calling it torture. When we finally managed to conduct the proper rituals and put him to death, he took it as a relief.
CORALINE
(quietly)
It is.
Vardaman hauls her to her feet, patting her down.
VARDAMAN
Would you prefer a quick death?
Coraline lowers her arms slowly, healing them as she does, but the pain still stabs through it.
CORALINE
No.
Vardaman sighs.
VARDAMAN
His crimes were innumerable and clear. But you... this should not have been your fate.
CORALINE
Well, life sucks. Haven't you noticed?
Vardaman gives Coraline some vodka, holding it to her mouth, and she awkwardly drinks before he withdraws and closes it, putting it away.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I got it. I put it in your shoe. I have no idea how you'll get it out.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Er, thanks. I guess.
I don't think it did anything.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Maybe next time you'll think twice before putting on five pairs of socks.
Coraline gives Agata an annoyed look as Vardaman unties her from the tree.
CORALINE
You could just let me go.
VARDAMAN
That is not an option.
CORALINE
Why not?
Vardaman doesn't answer, instead guiding her over to the horse of the moment and hoisting her up, mounting after. Through her socks, she feels something in her boot, like a small rock.
They continue on.


INT. Grey Lobby
The Lobby is empty, now.
Coraline glances around, and then looks down at her feet. She's not even wearing socks. Under her blue dress, her feet are bare.
She wanders, drifting between the circling bits of furniture, trailing her fingers down the backs of sofas.
She tries some of the doors, but they won't open.
She stacks a chair on top of a table, just for the hell of it.
She knocks on the walls. Her hand clunks dully. She kicks at some of the sofas.
She finds herself in the centre, and glances around, but she is still alone.
She closes her eyes. She feels the fire, waiting, and brings it out, focusing it in her hands, balling it up in front of her, until it's almost too much for her to bear. She throws it out in every direction with a scream, and the flames explode around her, billowing out, before fading into nothing.
She pauses, and then lashes out with an arm, slicing the air with a finger, directing a lash of fire beyond it. She does another, and another, and another, dancing about, painting the air with slashes of fire that trail behind her and die. She slashes through one of the sofas, and it leaves a jagged glowing cut behind.
Silence and stillness greet her as she finally stops.
A tendril of smoke rises from the sofa.
CORALINE
Oops.
The Lobby blurs slightly, and then it's as it was - no cut in the sofa, no scorch marks from her flames, no burns.
Coraline quickly steps out.

Testing

INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
A room is full of water. The wall door is hanging open, but a forcefield is over the doorway, holding the water in.
Kit and Nolan are standing nearby.
Kit casts a bunch of spells on Nolan.
KIT
(doing hand-wavy bits)
biinät namön, yäig apurar koiŋgoita dalamo, ugiamo ibao. goro rägia.
Okay. I guess.
Nolan pushes through the forcefield, swimming into the water while sort of jumping off the ground in the air outside. Kit shoves him the rest of the way in.
Several minutes pass, and then Nolan falls back out and lands in a heap at Kit's feet.
KIT
(helping Nolan back up)
Well?
Nolan coughs a bit.
NOLAN
No.
KIT
So... what?
Nolan doesn't answer, and ambles off in a direction instead.
KIT
(calling after Nolan)
You know you'd make a really good wizard, because you're just that helpful!


INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
They try again.
KIT
(casting)
namön yoliaig, yäig apurar koiŋgoita dalamo, goro rägia, maradën guäïn kurum.
ëlimo kumukumu!
Spell effects happen, and a large bubble appears around Nolan. Kit tries to shove him through the forcefield into the water room.
The bubble resists, not wanting one bit to go into the water.
Kit pushes harder, makes the slightest progress, and then the bubble bounces back, knocking him and Nolan over.


INT. Blocky structure - testing floor
Everyone is there this time, outside the water room, by the open door with the forcefield. Jora has a large pole. Erry stands nearby, watching.
KIT
(finishing off and casting everything on Nolan)
ëlimo kumukumu. uoyak... biinät?
The last spell is designed for pressure problems in general, but he has no idea what it actually does.
Then Nolan goes up to the forcefield, Jora shoves the pole in the frame past Nolan, and they force Nolan inside by using the pole as a lever against the wall.
Nolan disappears into the darkness of the water on the other side, drifting vaguely upward.
For a long while, nothing happens.
Nothing continues to happen.
JORA
Should he be back, or...?
ERRY
He's dead. He's finally dead. You killed him.
Kit glares at Erry.
JORA
Shall I go after him?
KIT
If it didn't work, he's already dead. Let's wait for the bubble spell to wear off first. I think he might just be stuck.
JORA
Stuck?
KIT
On the ceiling.
A few minutes later, Nolan flops back out through the forcefield, landing in a wet heap.
Jora helps him up, checking his face to see if he's all right.
Nolan ignores her.
KIT
So?
NOLAN
I got stuck.
KIT
On the ceiling?
NOLAN
Yes.
KIT
So this might just work.
NOLAN
Yes.
KIT
YEAAAAAAH!
Erry stares at him.

Learning

INT. Grey Lobby
Coraline practises fire. She tries it without arms, keeping them firmly crossed, but nothing happens. So then she tries with one hand, gesturing over her elbow, and that works. She makes the gestures smaller and smaller, but makes the slashes of fire exactly the same, controlled, precise.
Then she doesn't need the hand. The fire comes at a thought. She looks, and it happens. She doesn't look, and it still happens, exactly in place.
The flames dance before her and she follows them with her mind, and snuffs them.
Then the boy in green is there too, throwing fire back, practising his own control in his incanted spells, grinning.
They weave their fire about in delight, painting the room with light. Coraline stands still and closes her eyes, tracing jagged shapes around her, and the boy in green chases after them, adding his own. Coraline dances around him, weaving the fire into it, and he dances with her, pairing off like a pair dance of some sort.
After a particularly exuberant finish, they collapse together, exhausted, laughing.
BOY IN GREEN
How do you do that? Cast without casting?
CORALINE
The fire is part of me. I just...
(she pauses to think about it)
I know what it feels like normally, and then I just use that feeling directly.
BOY IN GREEN
Can you do that with other spells?
CORALINE
I dunno.
BOY IN GREEN
Ah! Mum!
The boy vanishes.
Coraline stares after him for a moment, and then slowly smiles.
CORALINE
All right, Mad Anna. We might just be in business.


EXT. Soravian countryside - afternoon
Coraline tries to scratch her arse on the saddle even as Vardaman continues to restrain her.
It doesn't work.
In her mind, she can feel the fire waiting, alien and yet familiar. She traces the feel of its call, not quite pushing it enough to cast it into the world itself, but knowing, now, that she can.
EXT. Soravian countryside - day
The days drag.
It doesn't end. The hills don't end. The pain doesn't end. The riding and stopping, the indignity and the searches, the vodka, the bound and wrapped hands, the arms held up over her head, the trees, the itching that she cannot scratch, the forests with their cold wind and colder sunlight... it doesn't end. They catch glimpses of the lower hills and plains to the south, and of the true mountains to the north. Thimble reappears, riding the packhorse with Agata, and then the three-legged white cat, too.
Vardaman maintains his vigil, showing no emotion, allowing no openings.
Amidst it all, Coraline restrains herself, and waits. She holds the fire. She senses Vardaman, and how easily she could kill him, with just a thought.
When the pain becomes too much, she focuses on her words, speaking softly, repeating the same phrase over and again. When there is nothing else to do, she returns to the Grey Lobby, and with the boy in green, practices simple spells - casting lights, moving things about, creating lightning and frost, making silly things happen with sound and colour.


EXT. Soravian countryside - morning
Coraline dreams.
: Dancing, swaying, flowing, skittering about. Loops and returns, glowing assays. The sky a theatre, the ground a mirror, broken only by the shatter of the unmade sea. There is silence here, and stillness, under the dance unending.
: You are standing on ice, a small island floating among so many others. There is no way off, no escape, but here in the cold, on the water, there is at least a respite. The aurora above dances its dance in hues of red and gold and green, painting stories only stars can hear, and you close your eyes, listening to the silence, feeling the rhythm of the dance in your bones. So familiar. You know, you just-
: Something clonks, and the entire iceberg jolts, knocking you to your knees.
: "No," you whisper, digging your fingers into the rough snow. "Not here." You struggle to get up, but the berg is shifting now, pulled down on one side, then another, rocking with every bound, every reach. They are climbing all around, closing, closing.
: There is a little bird at your feet, shivering, and you pick it up carefully, cupping it in your hands. "Hush, little love," you say. "It won't be long now. In the stories..."
: The bird squeaks and shrinks into your hands as you sink back to the still rocking icy ground.
: "In the stories, we only die once," you whisper, and hug the bird close, closing your eyes once more.
: It's warmer. You're sitting on a ground, still hard, but no longer icy, no longer frozen, and still. It is dark now. No auroras dance. No stars paint the sky in a brilliant swath. You open your hands, and the bird peers out as well, a strange warmth, oddly at home. You can feel it glowing. A little light. Known quantity.
: You're in an underground room, full of crates and giant bananas. The light is on, but you are blind, you cannot see, cannot see anything even as you know it is there. In a panic, you scramble to get up once more, nearly running into a banana on the way, and jump over several crates, and the bird squeaks in surprise. You run. You flee. Bananas keep getting in the way. Then it's other fruit too: lemons, persimmons, cloudberries, gerbils, even a pineapple, all giant, towering things ready to crush and kill. The lobsters aren't helping either. Why are you wearing lobsters on your feet?!
: You stop and look down, and the lobsters stare up at you balefully.
: "Get off my feet," you tell them.
: The lobsters continue to stare up at you balefully.
: "Please," you add.
: The lobsters sigh and scuttle away, rather lethargically.
: "You're not helping either," you then tell a nearby lime, as tall as you are.
: "Aww," the lime says, and hangs what might pass for its head.
: "Sorry," you say, skirting around it. You really do feel sorry. "I know you're doing the best you can."
: You hurry on, out into the corridor. It's old, dusty, dark. Here the walls are lit by fixtures set into the ceilings, alien but familiar, practical, sensible. The dusty linoleum is scratched and gouged underfoot, streaked with rubber stains, dented by constant use. You still can't see, but it doesn't matter. You know what's what. You can feel it all, all around, all the same.
: You skip past the first three doors entirely. They are the wrong ones. The fourth you almost open. It has a small window built in, barred over. The latch is heavy, designed only to keep whatever is in in, and you look inside. The walls are padded, but there is little else there, only a whisper of a whisper, repeating words you know too well. A shadow of a shadow, a memory of a scream. A face, suddenly there where there had previously been nothing, right at the window, bloodied, maddened, staring back at you in utter terror.
: You jump back in surprise. It's your face.
: "Like air. Like water," you hear the other you whisper hoarsely. She shrinks down, and then rises again suddenly. "Go!" she says. "Find the end. Built up the beginning. Can't stop until you've writ your name."
: "What?" you say.
: "Go!" the other you shrieks, waving you along, before sinking back into the depths of the room, mumbling.
: You go. But now the space is wider, a vast hall, broken up by columns, thick, ordered, raw, repeating on into the depths like a maze, growing out of the dark. You follow their line to the far end, to the vast double door set into it, intricately detailed, towering, each one metres across, and many more tall. You can't make out the patterns. Every time you look, they change, ornate and detailed, an exquisite relief that doesn't seem to actually be anything at all, just a story, ever changing.
: There is no handle. No hinges. Just the door reaching up into the gloom above. You stop uncertainly, but the patterns don't, still shifting, dreaming. It is just the shape. Huge, looming.
: The shape.
: What are you supposed to do with it?


Coraline is mumbling her mantra, half asleep, trying to get back to the dream, even as Vardaman lifts her up against the tree of the moment. She stops, realising the night is finally over, and whimpers.
VARDAMAN
What were you saying?
Coraline stares at him unhappily, and then cries out in pain as he pushes her arms back down.
CORALINE
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
VARDAMAN
Your pain...
(he places a hand on Coraline's forehead, casting)
wound fasten full.
Some of the pain fades. The voices worsen. Other things worsen.
VARDAMAN
I'm sorry. Your wounds are beyond my ability to heal.
CORALINE
Vodka.
(quietly)
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
Vardaman gets her the vodka, and the cycle continues as usual. She drinks the vodka awkwardly, eats the tortillas awkwardly as Vardaman feeds her each bite. She rides with him, held in place, bound tightly, not telling him, not killing him.
She rests at the bases of trees, held up by her arms secured above her head, and does nothing.
In the world, she whispers, quietly, her mantra, not even noticing the words.
CORALINE
(whispering)
My pain belongs to the Divine. It is like air. It is like water.
In the Lobby, she buys time, and distraction, but little solace.
The voices whisper as the sun gets lower. Ghostlights go silent and flee before them.

Escape

EXT. Soravian village - afternoon
Vardaman and Coraline ride into a small village nestled in the foothills. Coraline hangs limply, mumbling.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names!
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Wake up. We're here.
Coraline sits up uncertainly, looking around.
Thick stone houses line the road. Rocky walls hint at extensive cultivation, though most of the fields contain only goats. Villagers going about their day-to-day stop and peer at them curiously as they pass. A group of housemites gathers and dances in front of the horses, and then scatters when Vardaman doesn't stop.
A child starts to go to them, but then its mother runs after, puts a restraining hand on its shoulder, and guides it back inside.
An IMPORTANT-LOOKING VILLAGER approaches.
Vardaman dismounts, taking the leads of all three horses in his hands, leaving Coraline to slide back into the saddle proper, peering out from behind a curtain of filthy hair.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Can you use this?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Yeah. Get my bag, will you?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Already on it. Arms?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I think the fire will work. Should be fine if I can just get the reins out of his hands. He's been using his legs to direct the horse some anyway, so I should be able to do the same. I dunno about galloping, though.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Not enough control?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Or balance. Or strength. I'll likely just fall out of the saddle, or bounce around too much, especially since I also don't have stirrups.
IMPORTANT-LOOKING VILLAGER
State your business.
VARDAMAN
Just passing through.
I could use supplies, if you have anyone selling.
The important-looking villager looks up at Coraline.
CORALINE
Hi.
IMPORTANT-LOOKING VILLAGER
What'd you do?
CORALINE
Tried to take over the world. The ferrets, though. The ferrets rebelled.
VARDAMAN
(to Coraline)
Enough.
IMPORTANT-LOOKING VILLAGER
Alright. Marswattas'll get you set up with whatever you need.
(he gestures down the road)
Gods be with you.
The important-looking villager goes and sends some kids to let the Marswattas know. The kids run off up the road.
Vardaman nods at him and continues after them, staying beside the horse with Coraline on, holding the leads of the others behind.
AGATA
(mind voice)
What are we waiting for?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Distraction. I can cut the reins, but if he can just grab the tack, we're screwed. If he shifts his hold, I'll see if I can get us moving, though. You'll need to get on the saddlecloth, and hold on.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Mad Anna would love this. So exciting. Such suspense.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Many spectators.
Vardaman stops outside the indicated house, marked by some kids loitering nearby, and puts a hand on Coraline's leg.
VARDAMAN
Don't try anything.
CORALINE
What am I going to try, armless show jumping? I haven't even walked the course.
Vardaman gives her a flat look.
VARDAMAN
You've stopped your mantra.
Agata peers at him carefully from the packhorse. Thimble and the white cat are just gone again.
Two more kids and a guy, presumably a MARSWATTA, come out of the house.
MARSWATTA
Hoi. Whatcha need?
Around them, villagers gather, watching, some of them chatting quietly. A few giggle to each other behind conspiratorial hands.
Coraline watches Vardaman vaguely, noting his hands.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Okay.
VARDAMAN
Travellable foodstuffs, water. Hay.
Vardaman hands him a magic bag, maintaining a firm hold on the reigns and saddle with his other hand.
MARSWATTA
Barrels, skins?
VARDAMAN
Barrels'll do.
(indicating Coraline)
If you've got any warm clothes she can use, hats, scarves, that would also be good.
MARSWATTA
I'll see what my wife can dig up.
The Marswatta heads back in.
Coraline tries to flick her hair out of her face. It doesn't work.
CORALINE
Well, this is fun. Everyone's staring at us. I haven't even showered.
Vardaman doesn't respond, standing waiting.
A few minutes later, the Marswatta comes back out, holding Vardaman's bag and some other items, followed by what might be a MRS. MARSWATTA, who is carrying a keg.
MARSWATTA
Got your stuff. Comes out to 20 crowns, 8 half.
VARDAMAN
20, really? What I asked for should barely top 8 full.
MARSWATTA
We're out here. Things cost money. 20.
VARDAMAN
If you're out here, then up a little. 10's more than reasonable.
MARSWATTA
I suppose I could take it down to 18 for a Deathdealer.
VARDAMAN
You're ridiculous. And is that keg for me, or what?
MARSWATTA
Fine. 15. But that's the best you're getting. Even in port you won't get better, and things cost here.
Vardaman pulls some coins out of his pocket and sorts through them with his thumb, handing them off, putting a couple of the wrong kind back. He repeats this a few times.
VARDAMAN
Here's ten and 8 half.
The Marswatta gives him an irritated look.
Vardaman gives him another two coins.
The Marswatta gives him a less irritated look.
Vardaman gives him another coin.
MARSWATTA
Fine. Pleasure doing business with you.
Mrs. Marswatta looks up Coraline consideringly.
Coraline gives her a pleading look.
Mrs. Marswatta glances irritably off to the side, then drops the keg on her husband's foot, causing him to fall over onto Vardaman, knocking the Deathdealer aside. Vardaman in turn yanks at the horses, not letting go.
The horses make unhappy noises and pull back.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Now!
MRS. MARSWATTA
(trying to pull her husband back up and nearly falling on him as well)
Sorry, sorry! Are you okay?
MARSWATTA
Gods damn, woman!
Coraline slices fire at the reins, jerking away with her head, and they fall limply out of Vardaman's hands, severed. The horse prances back, released from Vardaman's grip, and Coraline quickly turns away in the saddle, pressing with her legs, turning it away as well.
Agata jumps onto its back, scrabbling at the saddlecloth, and climbs up onto Coraline's shoulders.
Coraline winces, but directs the horse more clearly this time, the commands coming to her like second nature. The horse steps lightly forward, going into a trot as Vardaman pushes away the Marswattas and jumps after Coraline.
Coraline thrusts an elbow at Vardaman, trying to direct the cast, even as she motions with her legs for the horse to canter.
CORALINE
Push!
Vardaman stumbles back.
The horse flattens out into the much less bouncy rhythm.
CORALINE
(leaning forward)
Good horse. Good.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You've done this before.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Not this! And keep your balance! It's hard enough keeping myself balanced; the moment one of us tips all three'll fall over!
Vardaman runs after, though he's well behind at this point.
VARDAMAN
Halt!
The horse ignores him, still following Coraline's commands, and gains speed down the road. She focuses the fire, giving it shape and directing it into her bindings, down her arms, wincing as it burns against her skin.
VARDAMAN
fell go down! black ashes night! bury! hold!
Vardaman throws some spells after Coraline, and one hits her in the back, making her decidedly woozy. She resists the feeling, concentrating on freeing herself, and riding, as the horse rounds a bend.
A small gaggle of villagers come out into the road around a building ahead. The horse charges straight at them.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agh horse!
(aloud)
Get down!
The villagers look up in surprise, and then duck as the horse jumps over. Coraline leans forward, pulling at her remaining bindings, and nearly falls off as the horse lands and Agata claws at her face before getting her seat properly again.
CORALINE
Perkele.
Coraline shoves some more fire at her arms, not even caring as it burns her even more, and finally yanks her hands free. She grabs the reins.
The horse proceeds to jump over some more, smaller, obstacles as well, but Coraline sticks the landing much better on these, glancing back momentarily as they pass the last couple of houses.
For the moment, there's no sign of further pursuit as she diverts into the woods.



Vardaman returns to the Marswattas shortly.
Mrs. Marswatta is patting down the other Marswatta's clothes, dusting him off. He grumbles at her.
VARDAMAN
Did you do that on purpose?
MRS. MARSWATTA
What? Don't be ridiculous.
MARSWATTA
(swatting her away)
Yes, yes, that's your job, you know.
VARDAMAN
(picking up his stuff)
Because if so, you should know that woman is a Carrier of the Death of Souls.
MRS. MARSWATTA
Well, so am I. Fortunately only to this poor sod most of the time.
MARSWATTA
What? Are you eating my soul now, too?
Vardaman ignores them and sets up the other two horses, tying the packhorse to the spare, and tightening the saddle on that. He mounts quickly, and urges the horses on.
MRS. MARSWATTA
Hmm? Oh, where are you going so fast?
VARDAMAN
(angrily)
To recapture the Carrier!
MRS. MARSWATTA
What's she carrying, do you suppose?
MARSWATTA
(he sighs and heads back toward the house)
I'm gonna go make dinner.
MRS. MARSWATTA
It's already on, you twit!


EXT. Soravian wilderness - night
The moons are full, the stars twinkling. Few clouds are out, over the trees. Coraline pushes the horse onward, healing it in lieu of resting, and herself, too, and so far, it seems to work. The voices are getting louder around her, echoing, pressing. Agata is no longer on her head, the bag now tucked into her belt.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Okay, I think I found something you can use.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Yeah?
AGATA
(mind voice)
It's a zombie. Looks a bit like you. Not very smart, though. I think Argument of Hags was chewing on it.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What? How'd a zombie get in there?
Agata pokes her head out of the bag.
AGATA
See for yourself.
CORALINE
We should probably keep going.
AGATA
Are you sure your pace is faster than Vardaman's?
CORALINE
It would have to be, unless he's... also using magic. And he's got two horses, so that could make it even easier... bloody damn. Okay.
Coraline guides the horse to stop in a dark stand of trees. Frost moulds on their branches form little flowers, covering the few remaining leaves. She slips out of the saddle quickly and starts loosening the tack.
Agata interrupts Coraline by crawling out of the bag like a bird emerging from a dead beetle.
The horse nuzzles Coraline's ear.
CORALINE
Perkele. I'd tend to you proper, but I'm now sure there's time.
Agata peers up at her.
Coraline pulls her bag out of her belt, nudges the inner bag aside, and pulls out the edges of the middle bag, eyes it worriedly for a moment, and then tips herself inside.


INT. Bag
It's akin to a decent-sized room, several metres across and over two metres tall. Junk is everywhere. Bedding and barrels are scattered about at random. Several bags are affixed to the top near the opening, and several bats are hanging off of those. Some lumps that look suspiciously like gogs are also hanging amidst the bags. Ash demons are everywhere, drifting, floating, hanging to the sides of things. A pile of camping stuff, dirty clothes, and empty bottles has accumulated on top of several hap-hazard stacks of books, and Coraline winds up draped rather indecently over that, bats fluttering away in surprise.
It is utterly, utterly dark, and surprisingly warm.
Coraline flops off the pile, onto another pile, and gets up awkwardly. A cat jumps away.
Something gibbers in the gloom. There's no light source, but for some reason she can almost see, sort of.
Coraline closes her eyes and tries to look properly. Shapes begin to form in her mind, a dialogue of presence all around her. A few points glow - cats, gogs, a few bats hanging from the ceiling, and something almost human approaching her hesitantly. One of the cats rubs against her legs and mews up at her. Other, vaguer shapes linger as well.
She opens her eyes reflexively, but now that she's seeing without, her vision remains the same.
The something almost human stops in front of her. Its skin is shrivelled, its face shrunken, eyes gone, wearing tattered rags, but it glows with an odd inverse light, muted, but vibrant.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
Hello. Are you the zombie?
The zombie stands there, staring vacantly with soupy eyes. It seems to be a dried-out drowner, and a bit chewed on.
Coraline stares at it dubiously.
Another zombie topples off a pile, tries to get up, trips over something else, and falls on its face on the floor in front of Coraline.
The first zombie looks down at it blankly.
Coraline also stares down at it blankly, and then glances back at the upright zombie uncertainly.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Er, which one was I supposed to be looking at?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Depends what your plan is.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I have a plan?
AGATA
(mind voice)
You should always have a plan. Several.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Great. Now if only I knew what they were.
(Dead voice)
Er, can you please get up?
The zombie on the floor tries to get up and fumbles a bit, so the other zombie helps it up, and then Coraline gives it a hand as well, getting it properly on its feet.
The floor zombie is smaller than the other, and slimmer, thinner than Coraline. It has no eyes, only empty sockets.
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
Right. Okay. I need you to do something for me.
The zombies stand by, dutifully waiting.
CORALINE
(looking around)
Agh, let's see...
Coraline tosses around some magelights, sticking them to random piles of things, and grabs some food. She then finds some cleanish clothes and starts shedding her own, still gnawing on the food.
CORALINE
(Dead voice; to the smaller floor zombie)
Can you take your rags off for me?
The floor zombie tries, but doesn't get very far. The other zombie paws at it a bit, rather ineffectually.
Coraline finishes pulling on some new socks and underwear, and then goes to help the floor zombie get its off, and starts putting all the clothes she had been wearing it, including what turns out to be four pairs of socks, sitting it down for some bits, turning it around for others. The floor zombie is perfectly cooperative, the other zomebie sort of helpful.
Coraline stops at the boots, petting Tress absentmindedly.
CORALINE
Perkele, I liked these boots.
The floor zombie, sitting on a barrel, watches her patiently with empty sockets. The other zombie stares vacantly off into space in the general direction of some miscellaneous junk.
Coraline shakes out the boots, and a fragment of something that looks a bit like a small black pebble falls out.
CORALINE
Oh, right.
Coraline reaches to pick it up, and the whole world turns inside out the moment she touches it. The voices silence. Stars loom, all too close, brilliant, searing, forming nameless patterns in her mind. The blackness drifts throughout it all, but no longer cloying, no longer hungering, simply there, a part of her, old and familiar. Another voice drifts out, lingeringly, huge, an echo of a memory:
DARK SISTER
You will be my last. You will be the best.
Coraline recoils in surprise, dropping the fragment, and everything goes back to normal, the voices rushing in, the stars and vastness fading. Only the voice of the Dark Sister continues to reverberate in her head, too huge to quite get rid of.
Coraline glares at the fragment in annoyance.
The floor zombie continues to sit patiently.
Coraline reaches down and picks the fragment up more carefully this time, bracing herself, and this time the effect is lessened. The stars and... things all still loom, the darkness still drifts throughout it all, the voices still go silent, but now she simply pushes the stars away, ignoring them, and looks past the darkness, and it seems to work. She can focus, almost. The voice of the Dark Sister still lingers, but more quietly now, subdued. It seems to be saying her name.
Except it isn't her name. Is it?
Coraline ignores that too and stuffs the fragment into her bra.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Is that an improvement?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
No idea, but I'll take it.
Coraline finishes dressing the floor zombie, putting on the boots and adding her coat and other bits as well, and then pulls on some clean clothes herself. She finds some new, not quite as nice boots, another coat that is nearly worn through on one elbow, some mittens, and a decent hat, brushes out and braids her hair quickly, and then puts on her sword and grabs her staff, putting the strap over her shoulder
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
All right, come on.
(to the other zombie)
You, guard my stuff.
Coraline gestures for the floor zombie to come over, and then climbs up some junk and hoists it out of the bag. She tries to climb up after, but can't quite make it.
The other zombie comes over and hoists her up.
The gogs just watch.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - night
The horse is still there, asleep, with Agata sitting on it.
Coraline lies on the ground for a moment, just relishing the feeling of being able to actually lie down. She gets up regretfully, reassembling her bag, and next to her, the now dressed floor zombie gets up too.
Standing next to each other, they look very similar. Only the floor zombie's face really stands out as not Coraline.
AGATA
Nice.
CORALINE
(indicating the floor zombie)
Seems pretty smart to me.
AGATA
It does seem smarter with you next to it...
Coraline goes to the horse and nudges its neck, rubbing it a bit.
CORALINE
Hey, come on, we need to go.
The horse startles awake with a snort, and gets up slowly at Coraline's urging.
CORALINE
(to Agata)
Keep the horse or spook it?
AGATA
Which do you prefer?
CORALINE
I so wanna keep it. But then if the Deathdealer tracks it down, which he probably will, I'll be there too... damn loose ends.
Agata shrugs a paw.
Coraline sighs and turns back to the floor zombie.
FLOOR ZOMBIE
(croakily)
Mother... did good...
CORALINE
(Dead voice)
Yes, you did good. Very good. Now please, hold still. This will be quick.
The floor zombie stands dutifully before her.
CORALINE
Oh, I really hope you can't feel pain.
Coraline plants her staff with one hand and places the other on the floor zombie's chest, and then brings out the fire, drawing it out, building it up, pulling even more from the staff, and pushes it into the floor zombie. At first, the floor zombie just begins to glow slightly, and then it opens its mouth.
FLOOR ZOMBIE
Moth...
Flames burst out of its mouth, licking up its face, and then the entire form of the zombie catches fire, a small fireball billowing upward, and the floor zombie collapses, burning.
The horse flees.
Coraline jumps back in surprise.
AGATA
Okay, now we get out of here.
CORALINE
And somehow not leave any tracks...
AGATA
It's good ground for that. Just watch your step, don't scrape against things. And pray he buys it.
CORALINE
I don't pray.
They hurry away into the dark woods, even as the floor zombie continues to burn down and smoulder behind them.

Cephalopod encasement

INT. Blocky structure - adjournment floor
The four kids gather by the room with the puddle outside.
Nolan stares pointedly at the puddle, and then stands in it.
Erry glares at him with a special kind of loathing.
JORA
If this works, we will get very wet. Make sure everything is secured and waterproofed as needed.
KIT
I wonder if ration blocks need to be waterproofed. I wonder how long they last. I wonder if I really want to find out.
NOLAN
Ready.
Kit casts spells, this time on all of them, and two gogs that just sort of randomly show up next to them.
KIT
namön yoliaig, namön yoliaig käïkä, yäig apurar koiŋgoita dalamo makitaka adëaka käïkä, maradën guäïn kurum käïkä.
kumukumu...
He starts to make bubbles, but then Nolan stops him.
NOLAN
Put us all in one. She'll kill me.
KIT
Kind of think you brought that on yourself.
Kit does so regardless, pulling his sister over. The gogs peer up at him patiently.
KIT
uoyak biinät adëaka.
(gesturing over everyone)
ëlimo kumukumu.
A very large bubble forms around the lot of them, centred on Nolan.
Nolan turns back toward the door, and then stands in the circle of glyphs in front of it, causing the bubble to roll slightly.
Nothing happens.
Nothing continues to happen.
Nothing continues to continue to happen.
KIT
Are we sure it... will open?
Nolan doesn't answer, and just continues to stand there.
Erry yawns loudly.
The door wall explodes, spurting water everywhere around the edges, and then cracking down the middle, too, as the torrent crashes through.
Nolan drops to the floor of the bubble as the water pours onto it, and Jora does the same. The bubble bounces back, tossed by the force of the water, and Kit and Erry both fall over.
It bounces around some more in the utter chaos of the flooding corridor, and inside it, the kids and gogs bounce around as well.
While all of this is going on, Erry does not try to kill Nolan, but she does bite him rather hard.
Then the entire corridor is flooded, the bubble pushed back against a corner, stuck to the ceiling. Pockets of air around them are pressed and compressed.
The currents die down. The bubble drifts to a slightly higher point of ceiling.
Absolutely nothing proceeds to happen.
KIT
Okay, it is entirely possible that I did not entirely think this through.
ERRY
Now what?
KIT
Well, uh... we should be able to breathe the water, and I don't think it will crush us, but...
Kit eyes Nolan.
Nolan pulls his rune stick out of his pocket and pops the bubble. It trembles and divides, and a moment later, they all fall out as the air escapes and spreads across the ceiling as much more normal bubbles.
There's a bit of flailing before they realise they all really are still fine.
Erry swims around a bit, nowhere in particular, circling the others.
JORA
(her voice very distorted)
So what's the plan?
NOLAN
(also somewhat distorted)
Find leak, knock out wall, use bubble to surface.
KIT
(almost unintelligibly)
Simple!
Jora heads for the dark hole where the sealed door used to be. Nolan and Kit follow. None of them move particularly quickly.
The gogs wind up attaching themselves to Nolan's back. He ignores them.
They come out into what, for all intents and purposes, is a void. Their lights illuminate only a short distance into the water, highlighting each other, the nearest wall and floor, and as they progress, not even that. It is like floating in nothing.
Erry starts singing, an odd tune about a hangover that lasts for several days, but mangled to be about badgers instead. The water mangles it even more, to the point where it's nearly unintelligible.
Erry blurbles at Nolan, waving her moose. Bits of fur fall out of it, drifting away in the water.
Nolan turns and continues on, swimming like an eel towards what might be the centre of the chamber.
The others follow.
An enormous eye looms up out of the gloom.
The eye is attached to an even more enormous trunk, as well as, apparently, a set of really massive tentacles further off to the side. The entire thing seems to comprise some sort of MASSIVE SQUID.
The massive squid pushes itself upwards, facing the kids with a set of tentacles lined with hundreds of sharp teeth, and some other things even more disturbing than teeth.
Nolan swims upwards, getting back up to squid eye level. He gestures toward himself, then to the squid, then around, then makes a motion that seems to mean 'out'.
The squid stares at him with enormous eyes.
NOLAN
(to the others)
Come.
Nolan swims up and around the squid.
The others follow cautiously.
The squid makes no motions to stop them.
They swim on into the dark, empty, noisy void.
They continue swimming, making no apparent progress whatsoever.
They continue continuing swimming.
A wall looms up very suddenly, blooming out of nothing in the stifled light of the magelights.
Nolan stops in front of it and stares at it, and starts slowly sinking.
The others regard it blankly as well, and for lack of any reason not to, also stop swimming. Unlike Nolan, they don't really sink.
A mass of tentacles and other squid parts drifts out of the darkness behind them. It also regards the wall, possibly blankly.
Kit gives the squid a worried look. Erry stares at it.
Jora watches Nolan. And the wall.
Nolan ignores the squid utterly, and continues sinking.
KIT
(swimming after Nolan)
So...
NOLAN
(pointing at the wall)
Out.
KIT
Uh-huh.
ERRY
Let's go.
Kit stares dubiously at the wall.
KIT
So to be clear. We're under an ocean, which has enough pressure and stuff to crush us. Currently the only thing protecting us against it is this wall and some magic that may or may not actually work. And we need to go through both wall and ocean in order to get out at all, and the most promising way we have to do that is a bubble?
NOLAN
Yes.
KIT
And this is better than sticking around home how?
NOLAN
I've catalogued those sheep.
KIT
What?
NOLAN
You have no family left. You would be alone in chaos, building nothing out of nothing, with no more direction nor purpose than survival. But you are brilliant, all of you, in your own ways. Here, you might flourish. And find sheep.
KIT
I... just... what?!
Kit stares at Nolan.
Erry bites Nolan's arm again, and then just sort of hangs off by teeth, blood drifting into the water around. Nolan ignores her.
Jora turns Kit around and gestures toward the squid.
JORA
It's trapped too. Let's get us all out.
KIT
Oh, well that changes everything.
Nolan sinks a bit more, and then points to a hairline crack in the wall.
Kit swims over and stares at it.
NOLAN
Chain the bubble, hold its volume. There will be changes.
KIT
Erry!
Kit grabs his sister, who is still attached to Nolan.
KIT
(motioning toward the crack in the wall with his free hand, and trying to get the words out as carefully as possible)
ikusiabud maliralu uaro! namön kolön adëaka ëlimo kumukumu käïkä.
Kit shoves the spells, and his sister, at the wall. A bubble forms around Erry, expanding and enveloping the lot of them, stripping them of the water, and the wall shudders a bit, but doesn't break. Kit throws out his arms, holding the bubble out against the pressure of the water.
The bubble begins to rise.
KIT
Ah crap.
Nolan sits down.
Kit lets go and the bubble shrinks considerably.
KIT
(hurriedly chucking some more spells through the bubble)
maliralu uaro! bukakuram uma!
Nolan's eye twitches.
ERRY
(sinking down to the floor of the bubble as well, clutching her head)
OW ow ow ow ow.
The wall ripples and groans, and then starts to crack, glowing at the edges, and then explodes right at them, shoving chunks right at them, into the room.
Kit throws out his arms again, pushing the bubble back out, holding it as bubble and squid are both pushed considerably back. Then a chunk hits the bubble, causing it to spin crazily as well.
The massive squid grabs and tosses a few other chunks aside as they fly at it, and then swims over to the bubble and steadies it with a tentacle, before grabbing it in a few more and using the rest to swim out of the room into the open ocean beyond.
Kit pulls himself out a crazy position on top of Nolan, continuing to hold the edge of the bubble out, hands out to his sides, palms out, concentrating, calculating.
The squid lets go once they're out, and swims away.
The bubble begins slowly to rise.
Erry stands up uncertainly, staring upwards, blood trickling out of her nose, and Jora steadies her.
Around them is only black.

As the bird flies

EXT. Soravian wilderness - morning
Coraline makes good progress on foot, headed mostly south. Cats spill out of the bag, walking alongside her, stalking ahead, riding her shoulders. The dawn comes with clouds aflame, and the day rises bright around them. She's tired, but feels no particular need to sleep.
Sometimes, when she looks, the world seems thinner, as though the darkness behind it is sort of poking through. Sometimes it sparkles.
All in all, it is brilliant.
The forests break up around them, giving way to open hills with stands of trees nestled tall amongst them. It's a much slower pace than before, but it's also a good one, giving time to properly look at the countryside, the views, the changes as autumn fades to winter.
Morning gives way to noon, and then afternoon. Coraline hikes with staff in one hand, whiskey in the other. Agata rides her shoulders. The three-legged white cat hangs half-out of her bag. Thimble and Onpahanvaanlampi stalk ahead of her.
The terrain is rockier, the hills taller. Coraline sticks to the gullies and canyons between them, even as they level out ahead. The trees reach out and cover her, obscuring the open hillsides around.
But there's no pursuit. No sudden altercations come.
Coraline climbs past a bunch of rocks, poking through dried weeds.
A FAIRY skitters across a rock and hisses at her.
Agata yawns on Coraline's head.
CORALINE
Something wrong?
FAIRY
You bring death!
CORALINE
Not yours.
FAIRY
No... no, yours. You bring your own. You walk as bones, almost burnt.
The fairy scuttles into a crevice behind the rock.
Coraline peers after it disappointedly, but continues ever onwards.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - evening
The sun sets sedately, with no fanfare, no fire, only a simple gradient of yellows and greens and blues and purples spreading across the sky like a growth of fungus. She pauses as the first stars peek through, tracing their patterns against the sky. She knows them well.
CORALINE
(pointing)
The Blob. Mr. Scruffy. Thing That Looks Almost Like The Pleiades But Isn't.
AGATA
You got some weird names, Names.
CORALINE
What do you call them?
AGATA
The Hand of Augh, Silent Kitten. The Old Mothers, Haresh, Sonmi, Peledeska, Hareiko, Lepaedi, Sehtusemuoia, and Brenna.
Gods, supposedly.
CORALINE
Stars are something else entirely.
AGATA
I never said the local names weren't weird too.
Ghostlights rise out of the stones, warbling faintly, dancing amongst each other. Coraline follows a couple, trying to catch one, but when she does, it simply moves right through her hand.
Argument of Hags pounces on another and eats it.
CORALINE
Hmph.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - early morning
Coraline finally stops to rest in the lee of a set of particularly large, angled rocks, covered in lichens, as the sky again begins to lighten. She doesn't make camp, just gets some food and drink and lies down on a flat bit of ground, staring up at the hard edge between rock and sky.
The three-legged white cat flops down against her, and Onpahanvaanlampi helpfully sits on it.
CORALINE
You need a name, mysterious bag cat.
The mysterious three-legged white bag cat purrs.
Instead of drifting into sleep, Coraline slips into the Grey Lobby.


INT. Grey Lobby
The darkness licks at the corners, lingeringly. Whispers echo, almost unheard.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Welcome back, Keeper.
CORALINE
Oh, hi. I should really be asleep.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Perhaps you are. The fragment helps.
CORALINE
Yeah, definitely. I don't need to be nearly so drunk. I might not die of liver disease after all.
VOICE OF KYRULE
And the other effects?
Coraline pauses.
CORALINE
Er... here's a question for you.
Why am I alive? Like at all. The Death of Souls should have destroyed me long ago - anyone else, it would have. So why not me? Why am I still alive?
VOICE OF KYRULE
There does appear to be a correlation to magical power. Shalias...
CORALINE
Only lasted a matter of months!
VOICE OF KYRULE
As a Keeper of Magic, she had access to considerable power, and months is still vastly longer the usual lifetime of a Carrier.
Your power may well be greater still. You have demonstrated a natural affinity to Cerrisian magic even despite not being Cerrisian yourself, and as a witch, your knacks are... unusual, to say the least. You have all the markings of one the Eternal's Chosen, and yet you simply appeared as if out of nowhere.
You're not Ordian.
CORALINE
No...
VOICE OF KYRULE
There was an Ordian by your name, matching your appearance. She disappeared over ten years ago, when her entire ship vanished without a trace between Karoph and Taga'rite.
Coraline stares at the Voice.
CORALINE
Was she a mage?
VOICE OF KYRULE
No.
CORALINE
A librarian?
VOICE OF KYRULE
A noble.
CORALINE
Did she like cats? Did she have weird online friends she never even met? Send suspicious packages to them in the mail as a joke and nearly get arrested for it when customs opened one of them?
And then get bailed out by said friends when it turned out they were actually really good at fudging permits? And dealing with paperwork? And making calls to exactly the right people even while themselves mailing entire live bobcats across international borders? Labelled as office chairs?
The Voice gives Coraline a dubious look.
CORALINE
Believe me when I say I am very glad I did not actually open that package. Probably one of the weirder emails I got. "You know that package I sent? Don't open it. It says 'office chair', but it's a bobcat. Also I sorted out the customs thing. You're welcome."
And then I go answer the door and there's a package outside. And it's growling.
Agata appears in midair nearby and drops to the floor.
CORALINE
Animal control was a little confused when the lynx terrorising the neighbours later turned out to be... not a lynx.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Who are you?
CORALINE
I wish I bloody knew.
The figure of the DARK SISTER coalesces nearby out of tendrils of black, perfectly dark, but gleaming, glittering. Wisps of the black flow and swirl around her, like smoke.
DARK SISTER
Nelanor.
A moment later, she's gone. In the darkness around them, in the shadows behind shapes and things, in the gleaming, sand trickles into the shape of the known. Beyond it, almost perceptible, is something bigger. Interconnected shapes, and...
CORALINE
What?
VOICE OF KYRULE
There is noone there.
AGATA
You might be hallucinating. Again.
CORALINE
But...
The Voice stirs, as if hearing something off-script.
VOICE OF KYRULE
He knows.
CORALINE
Who?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Ense Vardaman. You have little time.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - early morning
Coraline gets up quickly, using her staff as a prop, grabbing a bottle, shoving cats in her bag. Ash demons drift lazily away. She looks around, but there's no sign of anything amiss.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Time for what?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Go west. He was taking you that way before, so he may not expect it.
Coraline hurries out, away from the dawn, cutting jaggedly around the edges of hills, looping back against the way she had come. The glow of the morning spreads behind her, flames of cloud licking out from behind the hills, higher mountains gleaming in the shallow light. A half moon glows vaguely down.
A clatter of horses echos against the hills around.
Agata hops onto a rock, looking back.
AGATA
Too late.
Bitter frost tickles her face as Coraline glances back as well.
Vardaman comes over the rise behind, galloping on horseback, leading the two others. In one hand he's holding the severed, charred head of the floor zombie, with a shoulder and part of an arm hanging off. The floor zombie has a long red ribbon tied around its neck.
He dismounts.
VARDAMAN
(calling out clearly)
You have gone far enough, Carrier. Stop now.
Coraline pulls her staff off her shoulders.
AGATA
Kill him.
CORALINE
But... perkele.
She aims and shoots.
Vardaman dodges, running toward her, drawing his sword, and tosses the floor zombie aside.
Thimble plants himself in front of Coraline and hisses.
Coraline shoots again, aiming quickly, letting loose a rapid series of blasts.
Vardaman dodges most of them, and blocks another with a ward, casting it up wordlessly in front of him.
Coraline raises her other hand uncertainly, shaping out a spell.
CORALINE
Lightning sharp.
The lightning crackles in her hand, wanting to move, and she casts it out in front of her, hurling it at Vardaman.
He slices through it with his sword, and it dissipates.
VARDAMAN
You stand no chance. Surrender.
CORALINE
No.
Vardaman raises a hand and blasts at Coraline, trying to disarm her.
VARDAMAN
drop spear.
It doesn't work.
Coraline hurls fire, wreathing it around him, covering him, feeling its searing heat even at a distance. Several shrubs burst into flame around him.
The voice rattle, growing louder, returning to the forefront.
Vardaman rushes right through it, charging Coraline with his sword, and the fire slides right off him.
Thimble growls low.
Coraline steps over Thimble, raising her staff.
Vardaman thrusts at her, casting with his other hand.
VARDAMAN
skin.
Coraline knocks the blow aside with her staff and swings at Vardaman, even as the spell trickles over her. He blocks with his sword, so she slides the shaft down and tries to stab him with the bottom. He deflects, seemingly without effort, and yanks the staff out of her hands.
Coraline nearly falls over behind him, only catching herself on some rocks.
Vardaman tosses her staff aside, turning, and grabs her wrist as she jumps up.
Coraline drops down, rolling away, forcing him to let go, only barely avoiding careening down into the valley below. She draws her sword and swings at Vardaman. He ducks aside, parrying, twisting at her blade with his own, and she nearly loses it.
Coraline steps back uncertainly.
Argument of Hags yowls angrily off to the side, and jumps at Vardaman's neck.
Vardaman ignores Argument of Hags and swings around broadly, knocking the cat aside and sending Coraline's sword flying.
Thimble jumps at Vardaman as well, clawing down his armour ineffectually.
ZOMBIE
(on the ground behind them)
Mo... the...
CORALINE
throw!
Vardaman evades what turns out to be some flying rocks, and shoves Coraline to the ground, pinning her with a hand to her throat. He draws back his sword, holding the point to her chest.
VARDAMAN
I will act as your judge in this life, as Kyrule cannot in the next. You are witnessed, as your soul has been weighed outside the eyes of the gods.
AGATA
That's hardly your right.
Vardaman turns slightly in surprise, but doesn't move the sword.
AGATA
You're just relieved you got to her before anyone noticed you screwed up. You're proud.
CORALINE
sleep!
The spell hits Vardaman full in the face, and he recoils, dropping the sword. Coraline tries to get up, but he knocks her down again.
CORALINE
Deep darkness ri...
Vardaman punches Coraline under the chest, knocking the wind out of her. He stares at her uncertainly, surprised.
Agata pads over carefully.
AGATA
Nothing's changed.
Weren't you going somewhere important? Are you sure you want to stand judgement over her?
VARDAMAN
Fuck.
Behind them, the floor zombie slowly pulls itself toward them, using its remaining arm as a lever.
FLOOR ZOMBIE
Did... goo...?
Vardaman plunges his blade into the floor zombie's head, and it goes still, the ribbon lying on the ground behind it like a lost pet. He turns back to Coraline, casting.
VARDAMAN
Bury black shadow sleep.
Everything goes black.



(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...




(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
Part 0Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7 • ...

Part 5: Extend tertiary function

You want the answer? You want the end? There is no answer; there is no end. There is only now. In every instance, now, now, now, ever-changing now. Nothing else matters. There is nothing else.

Enjoy your purgatory of the now.

Notes:

  1. Let us pretend the whispering is only the desert wind.
  2. Same flavour, different giraffe.
  3. Placeholder languages may be chosen/generated by automated processes.
  4. To say 'kauhistuksen kanahäkki' may apply.
  5. Or not.

Surface

EXT. Lauhen sea - night
The sea is calmish, with just enough waving to break up the brilliance of the sky. It's a huge sky, awash with swirls of colour and light, thousands and thousands and thousands of stars painting the canvas above with more light than dark, and beneath it the water gleams, a broken landscape of dark shadows and half stars and silver edges.
The bubble erupts from the surface suddenly, popping out of the small waves and exploding on immersion into the atmosphere. The four kids, and two gogs, somehow still with them, fall out into the water.
Kit collapses and nearly sinks before Jora grabs him and holds him up.
Nolan treads water, peering vaguely off into the distance.
NOLAN
The stars are wrong.
Erry flops onto her back, floating, staring up at the sky.
ERRY
It's bigger than I remembered.
NOLAN
Thirteen days. Three hours.
We don't have an inflatable boat. There's no shore here.
Kit groans a bit, not opening his eyes.
JORA
Kit, I know it's a lot to ask, but can you do anything?
KIT
Nnnrrrgggh.
I can't summon one. I suck at summoning. Even little things. Like I tried summoning a spoon once? Wound up with a broken nail.
JORA
It doesn't have to be good. Or a summon. What else floats?
KIT
Ducks.
Nolan produces a duck. It flaps away awkwardly. One of the gogs gives chase, swimming after it.
ERRY
Wood.
NOLAN
Ice.
Kit opens his eyes.
KIT
That... could work. Porous elves' ice, ratio of volume to surface area something lots of water...
Kit just hangs in Jora's arms for a bit. Then he raises a hand and shapes out some spell motions very lethargically.
KIT
yaga dalamo yäig gugum.
He ties it all together with a flick and sags into Jora.
The water before them begins to draw together, whitening, solidifying into a mostly flat block of ice rising almost a foot out of the water, big enough to fit the lot of them. A slight wall lines the edges.
The gogs climb on, one of them now dragging a be-webbed duck.
Nolan hoists Erry onto it and climbs in after.
JORA
Nice.
KIT
Nuhh-huh.
Jora tries to lift Kit onto the ice raft, and Nolan pulls him up the rest of the way. Kit doesn't move, just collapses onto the ice, asleep.
Nolan pulls Jora up as well.
They all just lie there for a bit.
ERRY
It's not cold.
NOLAN
State shift via magical energy realignments. Rotations are held according to different frequencies than the natural state. Particularly stable frequencies retain a similar half-life to non-magically-occurring unstable materials.
ERRY
I see.
NOLAN
You do?
ERRY
It'll break down. So do other things. Eventually.
Nolan nods slowly.
ERRY
We'll run out of food first. Even if we eat you. And your duck.
JORA
We're not eating Nolan.
A large fish, several feet long, flies out of the water and bounces onto the raft with a wet plop, winding up half on top of Kit. It has several large holes in it, trickling blood.
The gogs skitter away.
Kit doesn't stir.
ERRY
We could eat that.
The fish flops weakly and then just lies there.
Kit continues to not react in any fashion whatsoever.
A tentacle reaches out of the water and gives them a little wave before disappearing back under the other waves.
NOLAN
Our giant cephalopod companion gives us thanks.

Failure case

EXT. Soravian wilderness - morning
Coraline awakens in the tall dry grass, tied to a tree much as before, but now also gagged, her mouth covered, a cloth shoved in so that she cannot close it or move her tongue at all. She gags on the gag, trying to vomit, but it doesn't work. Instead she chokes, the vomit going up her nose, painfully, drowningly. She struggles futilely.
Agata and Argument of Hags are around.
Vardaman hurries over and casts a quick spell over Coraline. Her staff is slung across his back. Her bag is on his belt.
VARDAMAN
bury thunder always.
Vardaman pulls out the gag and cloth and Coraline pukes on her lap, instead, straining against the burning in her nose.
VARDAMAN
You'll need to control your breathing, or you will die.
CORALINE
(coughing)
What?
Vardaman stuffs the cloth back into Coraline's mouth, replacing the gag.
Coraline nearly chokes again.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I won't even be Captain Obvious today.
VARDAMAN
That was clever, your zombie. If you'd killed it, that might have worked.
And your magic. If you could have done that all along, why didn't you?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
He just... he doesn't seriously expect me to be able to answer that...?
AGATA
(mind voice)
No. But he wants to see if you'll find a way. You've surprised him, multiple times over.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What? I'm not that stupid...
Why? Why all of this? This is crazy.
Coraline chokes and struggles a bit, trying to cough, pulling on the ropes.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Breathe. Just breathe.
Coraline does, focusing.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I have to kill him, don't I? There's no other way out of this...
Vardaman pulls the gag down off Coraline's mouth again, and she spits out the cloth in.
CORALINE
Haista vittu.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Even if there is, it's not worth the bother.
VARDAMAN
That's all? You're not going to try anything?
CORALINE
Nej! Nyt sä vittu kuolet! I'll kill you. I'll fucking kill you. Fuck you. Fuck Kyrule.
I'll take you...
Vardaman claps a hand over Coraline's mouth, but then nothing happens anyway.
Darkness swirls at the edge of Coraline's vision. Voices whisper, though they are not of the Death of Souls. They seem older, deadlier.
Coraline angrily pushes it away.
VARDAMAN
(lowering his hand)
I don't seem to be dead.
AGATA
You're being ironic, Names.
CORALINE
(pulling against the ropes)
I'm not ironic! Touch me again and I'll kill you!
AGATA
Heh.
VARDAMAN
Why the cats?
Coraline glares at him.
VARDAMAN
Why not use your magic before?
Why cover yourself in so many lies, even now?
Who are you?
CORALINE
Your mother.
VARDAMAN
Well, shit. I'm fucked.
Whispers protrude. Nelanor. Nelanor...
CORALINE
(mind voice)
He didn't find the fragment.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You got lucky. He's probably not terribly familiar with the concept of a padded bra. Or not a good one.
He still hasn't gotten into your bag, though he's obviously wizened up that there's something there.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I'm seeing things.
Vardaman picks up the cloth and stuffs it back in Coraline's mouth. She tries to bite him, but also reaches out with her healing senses, finding him there in front of her, his life, strong, vibrant.
He pulls the outer gag back up over her mouth, tightening it, and steps away.
Coraline rises up after him a bit, straining her arms, snapping the ropes taut.
CORALINE
HNNGNNN!
Vardaman regards Coraline flatly for a moment.
Coraline sinks back down into the grass.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Like something moving behind the fabric of the universe. I'm seeing it too. Interesting.
Also you maybe shouldn't have told him your intentions. Or be so obvious. Sure, you're angry, but how is this helping, exactly?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Aaaaaagh.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I know. It sucks. Deal with it.
Coraline whimpers unhappily.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I was so close. I was free... for a little bit. And now it's just this all over again, but worse.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Yes.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Thank you.
Thank you for sticking around...
Agata plonks down next to Coraline and purrs.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You may be miserable, but you're fun. Telling a Deathdealer fuck him and his god? That you're going to kill him? Stupid, but very fun, especially the things his face does. And I'm rather enjoying this whole side plot with Kyrule's Voice. Getting to watch that... well, you, of all people, as one of his Keepers is bound to get interesting.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
That assumes I don't die first.
AGATA
(mind voice)
So don't.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Voi paska! That's what I'm doing wrong. I'm dying!
AGATA
(mind voice)
Mmm, butter shit. I bet all the dogs go for that one.



Vardaman sits down by the horses, watching Coraline, or as he knows her, Amadi. Maybe. He is beginning to doubt much of her story, and yet there are also things he cannot quite shake.
Vardaman opens his fist on his lap, revealing a large golden coin. On its face is the mask and skull of Kyrule.
He opens his other, and in it is another matching coin. This one has on it a figure of scales. He turns it over, revealing the mask and skull.
He gives Coraline an appraising look, but she's simply hanging limply, staring at the grass. Agata is curled up by her leg, doing apparently nothing either.
VARDAMAN
(quietly)
Keepers, what am I doing? Who are you?
Agata raises her head slightly and stares at him, and then slowly closes her eyes and opens them again.



Later, when Vardaman hoists Coraline back up, he doesn't untie her from the tree. Instead, he pulls the gag back out and holds a bottle of vodka near Coraline's mouth, still holding her arms up over her head.
Coraline tries to move her head to the bottle, but Vardaman pulls it back.
VARDAMAN
You're no Deathdealer.
CORALINE
Oh, now you're Captain Obvious too? Am I just stuck on a whole planet of Captain Obviouses?!
VARDAMAN
Are you... Ordian?
CORALINE
No.
VARDAMAN
You're lying.
CORALINE
What's your point?
VARDAMAN
Speak to me. You're dying, but your life need not be so miserable before the end.
Do you think I want to do this to you? If I knew what your capabilities were, if I could trust you in any way...
CORALINE
Even if I told you the truth you wouldn't believe me, and I can't... I can't do that.
VARDAMAN
What is the truth?
Coraline meets his gaze, but doesn't answer.
VARDAMAN
I know you have means to communicate with your cat, even with your magic bound. I know you have mage training, and martial too, though you present as a witch. I know you serve Kyrule.
You're clearly no stranger to suffering. You're well-spoken across several languages, so you're no commoner. And yet you also know your way around animals, and wilderness, well enough even to throw me off, through non-magical means.
CORALINE
So?
VARDAMAN
And you keep secrets. You play a better game than most agents.
CORALINE
Take this one to the grave.
VARDAMAN
There is nothing for you in death!
CORALINE
It's still my death. Doesn't that count for anything?
VARDAMAN
Normally it would.
He puts the bottle to Coraline's mouth, and she warily takes a drink.
Vardaman takes back the bottle, gives her some food and water in much the same fashion, and replaces her gag. Only afterwards does he untie the ropes from the tree.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I've played too many cards already. If this doesn't work...
Also, my magic is bound? What does that mean?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Suppression spell. Ignore it. Doesn't seem to affect you anyway. This will work, don't worry.
When they return to the horses, the one Coraline had stolen before nickers softly, turning toward Coraline. Coraline pulls a bit toward it as well, but Vardaman directs her instead to a different one, lifts her up, and mounts quickly behind her.
Vardaman holds her tightly as they head out once more.
For a few minutes, Coraline simply waits, looking out over the brown landscape and barren trees, trying to compose herself, focusing on breathing. Then she closes her eyes, and looks out at the world without them.
Everything is dark, thin. The landscape shows itself as edges, smears, ghosts of trees and rocks. The sky is a void, hungering, lingering. Behind it all, stars poke through, ancient and terrible, singing. Sand trickles, hinting, whispering. Points of light distort the edges, trailing their essence behind them. A bird in the sky becomes a strange smear. Larger animals, huddled down, give off distorted glows. Sprites glimmer with tenuous light.
Her own self is a darkness to rival the sky, a shape she can't make out. Vardaman is a brightness to rival the sun. The horses and cats are far more normal, simply shapes of horses and cats, glowing beneath her and behind.
Coraline reaches into Vardaman's brightness, feeling it all around her, almost a part of her. His arms are the conduit, his chest the core. She can feel his life, his strangeness, his simple fragility, and takes it all into her mind. For a moment she simply holds it there. Somewhere, she thinks, I'm sorry.
Vardaman moves behind her, almost as if he heard.
And then Coraline flips it, twisting it in on itself, turning it out.
Except nothing happens. The brightness remains. Vardaman... remains.
CORALINE
Nnngh?
Desperately Coraline opens her eyes, the brightness of the world flooding back as light, a thin layer over the darkness behind the world, even as she finds the horse underneath her instead with her mind, finding its essence, its life, and turns that out instead.
The horse crumples beneath them, falling over, dead, its life suddenly just gone. Vardaman pulls Coraline off as it falls, losing hold of her momentarily as he rolls away, and quickly gets up. Coraline yells in surprise, but gets up quickly and starts running in a random direction.
Vardaman runs after her and tackles her to the ground, hauling her back up a moment later. He draws his sword, turning, pulling Coraline back even further as he looks around for the source.
The other two horses shy away from the dead one, straining back. One of them stomps a bit.
VARDAMAN
(casting overhead with his sword)
See call come!
Agata peers at them curiously from the packhorse.
Coraline tries again, twisting at Vardaman's life, trying to put it out as she had with the horse, and the Carriers before. But nothing happens. Nothing continues to happen.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I can't... it doesn't work on him.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Worked on the horse.
Vardaman looks around briefly, then spins Coraline around by the shoulder. He grabs her by the arm, putting his sword to her throat.
VARDAMAN
You. What did you do? How did you do that?
CORALINE
(trying to put on an appropriately blank look)
Nnn? Hnnnugh?
Vardaman frowns at her.
VARDAMAN
How?
Coraline desperately shakes her head, leaning away from the sword.
AGATA
The way you've got her bound up? How could she have?
VARDAMAN
And what about you, cat? What is your part in all this?
CORALINE
Hnnnugh hnngnnn nnn!
Vardaman shoves Coraline aside and grabs Agata instead.
VARDAMAN
Give me one good reason why I shouldn't end you, cat.
CORALINE
NNRRNGH!
Coraline charges Vardaman, headbutting him. She bounces off harmlessly, falling in a heap off to the side.
AGATA
Because my life sustains hers. Take mine away, and she will become that much weaker, that much closer to the turning.
You want her alive? Then you need me alive too.
Vardaman frowns, but lets Agata go. Agata hops away and jumps up onto some rocks a few metres away.
Vardaman picks up Coraline again, gripping her in one arm, and then holds out his other hand, palm up.
VARDAMAN
Come.
A black soulstone appears in his hand.
To Coraline, there is something wrong about it, more so than with any of the others before, and she tries to shy away from it, but Vardaman's grip doesn't let her.
He places the soulstone to her chest.
Coraline screams, a muffled wail of all consonants. Something inside her breaks. The voices rise to a thunder in her head. The starsong hurtles into her mind. The blackness is everywhere, everything too bright to see, crushing.
Coraline struggles violently, kicking, twisting, trying to get away, needing to, more than anything.
Vardaman draws the soulstone back away from her.
Coraline stops struggling, but remains very tense, hyperventilating, staring at the soulstone in horror.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names? Names!
VARDAMAN
What the fuck?
Go.
The soulstone vanishes. Coraline immediately relaxes, collapsing in his arm.
Vardaman lowers her to the ground, pulling down her gag.
VARDAMAN
Speak.
CORALINE
(mumbling)
They need to stop their experiments.
VARDAMAN
What experiments?
CORALINE
(mumbling)
The Eternal was right. They need to...
VARDAMAN
The Eternal?
Coraline passes out.
Vardaman glances at Agata.
AGATA
Don't do that again.
VARDAMAN
Who experimented on her?
AGATA
No one.
VARDAMAN
She just said...
Agata sticks a leg up and starts licking her butt.
VARDAMAN
I'm talking to a fucking cat.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - noonish
Vardaman continues on, hauling Coraline along bound and gagged, leaving the dead horse behind. He goes slower now, resting the remaining horses longer, and stops by a small stand of tall trees, tying Coraline to another tree, Coraline almost hanging from her arms held above her head as she drifts in and out of consciousness.
Vardaman squats next to her and pulls the gag out again. She doesn't respond, so he follows up by slapping her a bit in the face.
Coraline very calmly vomits a bit in response.
CORALINE
(quietly)
Ense Vardaman.
Vardaman startles and stares at her.
CORALINE
Let me go.
VARDAMAN
What?
CORALINE
Ense Vardaman, as I give your name as proof, in the name of the Eternal I command you to let me go.
VARDAMAN
You're a Voice.
CORALINE
I wasn't supposed to tell you. I wasn't supposed to reveal myself. But nothing else worked. You wouldn't even die. I couldn't even do that...
Vardaman stares at her in considerable confusion.
CORALINE
Let me go.
VARDAMAN
No.
CORALINE
What? But... you... you're...
VARDAMAN
As a Voice, I disagree. The choice remains my own.
Coraline stares at him for a bit.
CORALINE
But... why?
VARDAMAN
I can't trust you. No matter who you are, you are too important to let go.
Coraline stares at Vardaman desperately.
VARDAMAN
I cannot.
CORALINE
At least untie me? Let me come on my own? Let me breathe?
VARDAMAN
Would you?
CORALINE
(she takes a deep breath)
If you are determined that I must, then yes. I'll go with you.
Vardaman gives her a long look.
VARDAMAN
I wish I could believe you.
CORALINE
Whaa...?!
Vardaman stuffs the cloth back in her mouth, replacing the gag.
CORALINE
Nnn gnnnngh!
Vardaman turns away wearily, heading back toward the horses.
Coraline starts sobbing hopelessly, choking on the gag, vomiting a bit more, and then choking on that too when it goes up her nose.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Have you considered jumping off a cliff?
Coraline stares at Agata, trying to breathe and get all the vomit back out of her nose.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Because you should totally jump off a cliff.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I... just... are you... what?
VOICE OF KYRULE
(mind voice)
Listen to your cat. Options remain.


INT. Grey Lobby
Coraline and Agata appear in the Lobby very suddenly, Coraline for some reason holding Agata like a sack of flour. A small group of Keepers are arguing nearby. The boy in green is a bit off to the side, glaring at them disappointedly, though he brightens up at seeing Coraline appear.
The Voice of Kyrule strolls over.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Keeper.
CORALINE
(incredulously)
Jumping off a cliff?
The other Keepers turn, surprised.
The boy in green breaks into a grin.
AGATA
For the record, I was joking.
CORALINE
Arrrrgh.
Coraline sits down heavily and flops back onto the floor.
CORALINE
See, this is the point where I would totally just fuck everything and kill myself with a shovel. If I could. Which I can't. Yeeeeah.
The other Keepers come over, concerned.
WOMAN IN BROWN
(touching Coraline's arm)
Whatever you're going through, the Eternal is with you. It can't possibly be so bad...
CORALINE
Oh, you have no idea. I'm eight different colours of 'fucked' right now. I didn't even know 'fucked' came in eight colours. Thought it was only three.
VOICE OF KYRULE
There are nine. You're not quite there yet.
Coraline stares up at the Voice blankly.
CORALINE
Did you... just make a joke?
BOY IN GREEN
See, if you really do want to jump off a cliff, I think it's doable. We just need... hmm. I'ma have to go give it a look.
The boy disappears.
The Voice leans down and hauls Coraline up by an arm, and the Lobby shifts around them, fading, darkening, into a room almost, but not entirely, exactly identical. The architecture is a little different. The furniture is against the walls. The light is dimmer. Dull windows look out over a grey city.
They're alone, now. The other Keepers are just gone.
The darkness at the edges of everything creeps in tendrils, sparkling. Coraline pointedly ignores it, and gives the Voice a confused look. Agata jumps up onto her head.
VOICE OF KYRULE
This has gone far enough. You need to win this fight.
CORALINE
This fight?
VOICE OF KYRULE
With Ense Vardaman. With your predicament. With the Death of Souls. All of these, it is up to you, your task, your challenge.
CORALINE
Right. So with Ense... with Vardaman, just so we're entirely clear here, what happened was... I tried to tell him what to do as a Voice. He decided not to. As a Voice.
Stalemate?
VOICE OF KYRULE
Not exactly.
CORALINE
Well we've basically got Voice on Voice where one has the other trussed up like a piece of livestock, so who exactly wins, here?
VOICE OF KYRULE
That is up to you.
CORALINE
Oh?
VOICE OF KYRULE
The Voices speak for the Eternal. In light of a disagreement, arbitration is determined by rank, and failing that, who is correct in practice. Should you escape, it becomes our will that you go free. Should you fail...
CORALINE
I did! I already escaped, he just hunted me down again!
VOICE OF KYRULE
That was before you invoked your right as Voice.
CORALINE
What... so I could have done that in the first place, and it would have been good enough?!
Why in the hells did you tell me to not tell him then?
VOICE OF KYRULE
That decision may have been in error.
Coraline stares at him, and sputters a bit.
AGATA
A god, admitting an error? Whatever next? Dogs meowing? Cats? Barking?
VOICE OF KYRULE
This error must be amended.
AGATA
Woof?
CORALINE
What... can't Kyrule just make some miracle? Send someone to go say 'Oi this matter is settled sod off'?
VOICE OF KYRULE
That would be you. That is what the Voices are.
CORALINE
(pumping her arms up like a cheer)
Whooo! I failed!
The Voice gives Coraline a flat look.
CORALINE
Sorry.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Will you continue? See this out to the end?
CORALINE
Sure, why not?
VOICE OF KYRULE
How far are you willing to go?
CORALINE
How far do I need to? I tried your way. I tried mine! Nothing's worked. Nothing.
VOICE OF KYRULE
How certain are you of your will?
CORALINE
I don't... what?
VOICE OF KYRULE
What are you willing to risk?
CORALINE
Everything.
VOICE OF KYRULE
And should you fail, who will mourn your passing?
CORALINE
Uh...
There's an awkward silence, and then Coraline uncertainly raises a hand and points toward the cat on her head, looking a bit skeptical.
Agata purrs loudly.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Do you regret the choices that brought you here? Will you regret one more?
CORALINE
Probably, but that's hardly a reason to stop.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Then we shall see who you are, Coraline Henderson.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - early afternoon
Coraline awakens suddenly, just in time to catch her bindings digging in particularly painfully as Vardaman hoists her up against the tree.
CORALINE
Nrrggaaagh!
Her nose, at least, is mostly clear again. Her head, not so much.
VARDAMAN
I'm sorry. I am not trying to hurt you.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Ow. Also what the crap?
Vardaman ungags Coraline, gives her some vodka and water, and then regags her, patting her down. His search is quite thorough, feeling her exactingly, but Coraline just ignores it as always.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I'll admit that was somewhat odd.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I've read Kyrule's secret book back to front, cat, and tried to make sense of even some of it, and frankly that exchange made even the least sensical bits of that book seem bloody purposeful. Possibly because they tended to have context, admittedly. Or notes complaining about the lack of context.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Well, at least you're not feeling quite so hopeless anymore.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
How can I possibly feel hopeless when I'm this bloody confused?!
AGATA
(mind voice)
Heh. It did remind you of one thing, though...
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Well, sure, there's the nonsense hopefuls apparently go through to become Deathdealers, but that's some actual trials. Tests. Things. And names.
They, like, fight things. Or stuff.
AGATA
Oy Deathdealer. When you lot go through your trials, what's that like?
VARDAMAN
What?
AGATA
We were wondering. My human thinks it's all about fighting stuff. I think it's more about... questions. Out with it, will you?
Vardaman stops mid-search, turns to stare at Agata, sitting serenely on the ground behind him.
Coraline just stands there, unable to really do much else. One of Vardaman's hands is on her arms, holding them up. His other is on her boob. She gives it an annoyed look.
VARDAMAN
What questions, exactly, do you think they are?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names? Throw me something here.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Will. Questioning. Regrets. Not sure about the other. Where the hells are you going with this?
AGATA
Your will.
Vardaman frowns.
AGATA
What you will question. What you will give up.
VARDAMAN
No.
AGATA
Whether you regret the choices that brought you here. Whether you might regret one more.
There's a long, awful silence.
VARDAMAN
How can you possibly know that?
Who are you?
AGATA
I'm a cat. Duh.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Have I ever mentioned how much I adore you?
Also I don't think I've ever felt more like a stage prop in my life. Including that time I literally was a stage prop in comp school.
AGATA
I note that you still haven't answered my question.
Vardaman ignores her and goes back to checking Coraline, checking both boobs, feeling around the edges of her bra, and then pausing at her cleavage. He nudges at it more, and then stops at the fragment, holding it through her coat and shirt.
CORALIN
(mind voice)
Voi vittu.
VARDAMAN
What's this?
Coraline just gives him an annoyed look.
Vardaman reaches up under Coraline's shirt and fetches the fragment.
Coraline makes an indignant noise.
As soon as Vardaman takes the fragment away, the voices clatter out of the cracks in reality around Coraline, jarring, bright, strange, pushing down on her like a horrible weight. A whole lot of other strangeness fades away almost as immediately.
Coraline tenses up awkwardly, blinking in confusion, trying not to... anything. She doesn't even know herself.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Names?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I'm fine, probably. It was just surprising, and annoying. And I guess it was helping even more than I realised. Perkele.
Vardaman gives the shard a worried look, clearly recognising it, and turns back to Coraline with some concern before pulling the gag out and pushing Coraline's arms back up against the tree above her head.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You're not fine. Get it back.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
How?
VARDAMAN
(holding up the fragment in his other hand)
How did you get this?
CORALINE
(rather loudly)
I am the Baron of Fartswetly, bearer of the legendary blade of Con Cebolla, worn at the battle of the Great Fortress of Bleugh! All things come to me!
VARDAMAN
I had this in my things. You're a thief, too?
CORALINE
The Baron of Fartswetly has many means. Means and ways. Ways and means.
VARDAMAN
Why this? Why is it important?
CORALINE
Your friends in the woods wondered that too. They tested it against the Death of Souls, and it exploded. The Eternal felt that dearly, you know. So many souls snuffed out. So many of the faithful denied their endings.
VARDAMAN
What?
CORALINE
The shard should be with me. That is why you had it, Ense Vardaman. Just in case.
VARDAMAN
In case of what?
CORALINE
In case it could help, of course. Now give the Baron of Fartswetly her due.
Coraline beckons with her head.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Why are you antagonising him?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Why not? How much worse could this possibly get?
Vardaman sighs and regags Coraline, stuffing the cloth back in her mouth and pocketing the fragment. Coraline bites at his fingers around it, but he ignores this and pulls up and tightens the outer gag holding it in.
AGATA
(mind voice)
He may yet kill you. For real.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Okay, yes. That would be... bad.

Building

EXT. Lauhen sea - day
The raft floats vaguely, bobbing and turning occasionally, often simply sitting on the surface of the ocean. It's stable. It works. It is an absolute dead end.
The sky above them is utterly, utterly empty, and very blue.
The sea below is dark and very blue.
Kit wakes up suddenly, looks around, and immediately regrets it.
The others barely react, either.
Kit sits there for a bit, staring dejectedly out over the sea.
KIT
So correct me if I'm wrong, but... we seem to be lost at sea?
NOLAN
No.
KIT
No?
NOLAN
No.
ERRY
No.
KIT
Oh.
JORA
We need shelter and water. Bearings would be good if we had anywhere to go, but we don't know where we are. The fish appears to be edible raw, but then it started going bad and the gogs ate the rest, so now we're back down to what we brought with us for food.
KIT
Right.
What fish?
JORA
The squid gave us a present. Apparently as thanks.
KIT
Squid. That... was a squid.
(he peers around)
And we really have no idea where shore is?
NOLAN
No.
ERRY
So whose fault is all this?
Kit and Jora glance toward Nolan.
Nolan looks at Jora.
JORA
It doesn't matter. We're here, and we need to handle it.
ERRY
It's awfully warm.
KIT
Oh, and I suppose you expect me to fix it. Fix everything!
(he waves his hand above them)
yat yoliaig gugum!
A cloud forms over them, blocking out the sunlight, and promptly starts raining on them. The ambient temperature drops significantly.
Erry flops back happily, smiling contentedly, even as she's pelted with raindrops.
Nolan blinks blankly as his hair plasters to his head.
JORA
Oh, wow.
KIT
Oh. Actually that does help a lot. Okay.
Stars, I'm hungry.
Nolan hands Kit a soggy ration block.
Kit stares at it blankly for a moment.
KIT
Yeah, okay.
Kit takes the block and starts gnawing on it.
JORA
We probably need to start with shelter. Some sort of covering or awning. A tensile structure?
KIT
(dubiously)
'Tensile structure'?
ERRY
We've been Nolaned. Save us.
KIT
I... what. Okay. How?
ERRY
Save us.
Kit turns to Jora.
JORA
Can you make a thin, coarse fabric out of the same material as the raft?
ERRY
And barrels.
NOLAN
Weapons.
KIT
Sure, I'll just make all the things!


EXT. Lauhen sea - day
It's later. The raft now has an assortment of all the things on it. Poles are grown up out of the corners, arching up into a pointed roof, covered in an awning which hangs down like curtains and blocks out the sun, though it's pulled open on two sides so they can still see out over the water. Barrel-like tubs of desalinated water are shoved into a corner. Some weapons and various tools are piled up on the floor. A wad of fabric attempts is piled up next to them.
Erry is half-hanging off the side of the raft, trailing a hand in the water. Shoved into the far corner in the shade, Kit is very irritably making arrows, handing each one off to Nolan, who nods and then adds them to a pile. Jora has a glass of water, calmly sipping it.
All the things are the same strange sparkling matte white as the raft itself.
Erry falls out of the raft.
ERRY
Agh!
There's a bit of a splash.
Nobody really responds right away.
Kit finishes an arrow and stabs it at Nolan. Nolan evades the stab and takes it and puts it with the others.
There's some more splashing off the side of the raft.
ERRY
Guys, guys? I can't get up.
Jora puts down her glass and hauls Erry back onto the raft.
KIT
So this is fun, and all.
Erry clomps over to the fabric attempts and plonks down on them with a loud crunching noise, making a makeshift nest for herself.
KIT
Also we seem to be lost at sea.


EXT. Lauhen sea - dusk
Night falls. The kids stare at it blankly. Jora ties up the side curtains as the sunset glints off the waves, and glows off clouds near the horizon. Stars poke out through the sky like weevils.
Erry totally accidentally smacks Nolan in the head with a fishing pole.
A gog slides Nolan a piece of paper.

External threats

INT. Grey Lobby
Coraline and the boy in green meet up, perching on the backs of sofas. The boy has a spellbook. Somehow, Coraline also has a version of hers, the introductory trainer Kit had lent her months back, though this one is much bigger. Agata is sitting on Coraline's head.
BOY IN GREEN
Okay, so what we want to do is jump off a cliff.
CORALINE
That's the... short of it.
BOY IN GREEN
What's the long of it?
Coraline takes a deep breath, mostly just to stall. They don't seem to really need to breathe at all, here.
CORALINE
I'm bound and gagged. I don't have access to any tools, can't secret any knives or anything to try to free myself. My bindings are secure, and checked regularly. I am watched at all hours.
What I need to do is free myself, incapacitate a Deathdealer, and then jump off a cliff.
The boy in green stops and stares at her.
BOY IN GREEN
Did you say 'Deathdealer'?
CORALINE
Yeeeeah. I can't command him to let me go because he is also a Keeper and... disagreed. I could potentially kill him using conventional means, but my usual magic for that sort of thing appears to have no effect on him. And that wouldn't exactly be proper.
BOY IN GREEN
Why, though? Why would a Deathdealer...
CORALINE
Let's just say we had a... difference of opinions as to which course of action is ultimately the more dangerous. He's very convinced he's right, and I'm reasonably sure he really isn't. And I can't exactly tell him the answer is necromancy.
BOY IN GREEN
Is it?
CORALINE
Gods, I hope not. But I sure as hell won't be able to find out if he actually achieves his mission and tells the world what I am.
BOY IN GREEN
(leaning back, tapping his foot)
Well, that makes it more interesting. Deathdealers are immune to certain kinds of magic, right? Death magic, mind-affecting stuff, most curses, a lot of alchemy straight up. Sleep effects don't really work either.
CORALINE
What about dropping a log on his head?
BOY IN GREEN
That would do it. Might see that coming.
You probably want some sort of paralysis for this. How fast can you cast?
CORALINE
I'll be honest. I'm really new to this. You've taught me most of the actual spells I know.
BOY IN GREEN
Your bindings?
CORALINE
I was able to cut them off with flame before, but that took a bit, too. Also hurt like hell.
BOY IN GREEN
Hmm. If you free yourself first, you'll be able to cast normally to incapacitate him. But if you incapacitate him first, you'll be more likely to succeed at actually freeing yourself.
CORALINE
What if I just do something iffy first to stun him, and then follow up with something better once I have my hands and voice back?
BOY IN GREEN
Could work. Let's see...
The boy flips through a few pages of spells.
Agata yawns hugely.
BOY IN GREEN
A freeze spell might work. But it looks like the spells that would help get a lot more complicated rather quickly... fear, maybe? No, Deathdealers wouldn't be susceptible to that...
Paralysis is a higher level spell. Entangle? Hold? He could probably cast his way through those...
Think he'd untie you if he thought you were dead?
CORALINE
Actually... yeah, he might.
I mean, he'd almost certainly continue lugging me with as a corpse, but dignity for the dead is kind of a big thing for Kyrule's followers.
BOY IN GREEN
There's a spell. Wanna hear it?
Coraline shrugs.
BOY IN GREEN
(squinting over the spellbook, and then casting with one hand)
Black heart dream...
He recoils and falls over backwards.
BOY IN GREEN
(getting up quickly)
I messed that up.
(casting again, using both hands, still looking at the book for reference)
Die heart dream.
The boy collapses, folding up onto the floor and just lying, unmoving. Coraline checks him out, and he does very much seem to be dead, to all her senses. Agata slides around on her head, reaching out vaguely to hold onto her hair.
CORALINE
Huh.
BOY IN GREEN
(opening one eye)
Convincing?
CORALINE
Far as I could tell. How did you tell when to come out of it?
BOY IN GREEN
Uh... I guessed. I couldn't actually see or hear anything, see.
CORALINE
Okay, that might be a problem.
BOY IN GREEN
Hmm... right. Let's find something better.
He flips through a few more pages of spells, reading through some, skipping over others entirely.
Coraline goes through her book as well, looking for anything remotely promising. Instead she winds up reading about a spell for conjuring up a fancy hut in a bubble.
Agata snores vaguely, hanging floppily.
BOY IN GREEN
You might be able to distract him with a conjuration. Or if you could vanish yourself...
CORALINE
He has an annoying tendency to tie me to trees, so I'd also need a way to teleport for that to work.
And when I'm not tied to a tree, he makes a point to always have a good grip on me.
BOY IN GREEN
(a bit impressed)
Gotta love our Deathdealers.
CORALINE
Yeah. Great when they're on your side. Otherwise...
(she sighs exasperatedly)
He's also annoyingly good at resisting and blocking random spells, so there's that, too.
BOY IN GREEN
Empower your spells, then. A longer incantation makes them more stable, so people use more related words, and you can add addwords like 'full' and 'all' and 'always' to buff them too.
CORALINE
All of the above?
BOY IN GREEN
Potentially. Try it!
CORALINE
Er... Full green light all always?
She holds out her hand and a brilliant green light appears in it, spreading vaguely out, filling the Lobby with colour. It wants to spread, become many lights, so she lets it, and a sea of green lights rise slowly from the floor and stop to hover at random heights below the ceiling.
BOY IN GREEN
Coooool.
So spells. Paralyse Deathdealer, free yourself...
CORALINE
Drop tree on him, rob him, run away.
BOY IN GREEN
There's always release spells, but those are a bit more powerful than we need, exactly.
CORALINE
How so?
BOY IN GREEN
Well, see, they kind of release everything. Restraints, sure. Imprisonment. Spell effects. Curses, even. Your old catch all can't catch me! Thing.
(he shapes out a spell and casts it in a random direction)
Hold.
Which is why there's also entire schools of counters for them - you get ropes made specifically to not be affected, so then you get release addwords built around working against anti-release stuff...
The spell distorts the space around it as it drifts away and fizzles out. It hits a few of the lights on the way, causing them to disappear.
CORALINE
Er.
BOY IN GREEN
That's fine. There's options there. Paralyse, entangle maybe...
CORALINE
Fly definitely.
BOY IN GREEN
Yes. Good one, that.
Agata lets out a particularly broken snore, tries to turn over a bit, curling her head around, and slides off Coraline's head, only then waking up very suddenly and clawing down Coraline's face trying to regain her footing.
Agata flops onto the floor, looking around in surprise.
The boy in green looks up in surprise.
CORALINE
(wiping at the claw marks on her face with her hand)
Well, you're really a cat, cat.
AGATA
What? Buh? No.
Coraline's hand comes away with streaks of ash on, and she eyes it confusedly.
CORALINE
I'm bleeding...?
BOY IN GREEN
It's ash. We don't have blood here.
AGATA
(sitting up)
You were. It looks like it's already healed.
How's your plan coming along?
CORALINE
Um. I'd be a lot more confident if I weren't on a bit of a deadline.
AGATA
Deadline. As in you'll be dead.
CORALINE
Yes, that's real helpful. Thank you.
AGATA
Well don't let me get in your way.
The boy laughs.


EXT. Soravian wilderness - evening
Coraline returns to herself as Vardaman is tying her to another tree. He says nothing as he moves to tend to the horses, and as she sinks to the ground, she doesn't really acknowledge him either.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Promising.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agata? Where are you?
AGATA
(mind voice)
He doesn't seem to like me much, so I made myself scarce. Broke into the bag where he shoved the other cats. There used to be a vampire in here. And a sizeable liquor cabinet.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
'Used to be'?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Let's just say Argument of Hags seems to really like chewing on the living dead. Now it's more like part of a vampire. A former vampire. An ex.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What, it didn't fight back?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Naw, it's bound up something awful. It's just sort of gibbering a bit. While a cat chews on it. Now that is a sight to see.
Agata passes Coraline some memories, including a few particularly choice scenes of gruesome chewing.
Coraline recoils a bit in horror. Vardaman pauses, watching her, but then resumes his stuff when she doesn't do anything further.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Dammit, cat, I did not need that!
AGATA
(mind voice)
Didn't you, though?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
No.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Well, one thing you will need is time. Those are some ambitious spells. And your boy does seem to have an actual life of his own, besides your little hobby here.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Perkele.


EXt. Soravian wilderness - night
Evening gives way to night. Vardaman gives Coraline some vodka and food, and bundles her up, before sitting by the horses. As always, he watches her carefully. He does not sleep himself.
Coraline ignores him, focusing instead on her breathing. She maintains regular breaths, in and out, in and out, not letting her itching throat try to cough, not gagging on the gag, not struggling against her painful bindings.
Idly, she listens to the voices, clamouring in the back of her mind, whispering, chattering, screaming. There's no pattern to it, just a steady stream, some louder, some softer, some stranger than others. None particularly stand out. None seem to repeat. But she listens regardless, focusing at random, like trying to catch a glimpse of a single blade of grass as it passes by while flying through a field...
VOICE 498862723
...Helena sa...
VOICE 1757467282
Mother...
VOICE 996514
It's so cold.
VOICE 666002
...okay to be afraid. It's okay to be afraid. It's okay...
They're all snippets. They all sound... there is something about them that she cannot place. Something off, changing them.
They all sound familiar, like she's heard them all before.
Another voice intrudes, almost as if right in front of her, but with the same quality as the others, still distant, off, not quite real.
VOICE 132434088
Hello? Please, can you hear me? Can you see me? Please, anyone, why can't anyone...
It sounds like a little girl, lost and alone.
And then it's gone.



(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
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(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
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Part 6: The shapes of things

This is not what happened. This is not how it happened. There is complexity, finesse. There are twists and bounds.

Coraline plans. She plans and plots, and somewhere in her other mind, she already knows that the Voice would come, and what he would offer. She knows what she is. She knows she can use it. And she also knows that she can't.

But minds are weird. They do not work easily and produce discrete answers. They take days, months, sometimes years, to agree on the most basic conclusions, for reason is not a quick thing, and the stubbornness of belief knows no bounds. Add magic, add old souls, add a break in the nature of the mind, and it is an easy matter to never realise what you already know. To mention it offhand time and again without even realising what you are saying, without realising it is true, requires no twists of logic, no mental gymnastics. It is simply how it is. It is the answer you sought all along.

Why is Coraline in another universe? Why is she cursed?

Why is Kyrule wearing her mask?

Notes:

  1. In a dream, everything makes sense. All the holes, all the inconsistencies, they simply don't matter. The dream simply is, and in it, you are.
  2. Relative positions are absolute in their primacy.
  3. Gestures hold transient meaning.
  4. Every word was chosen.
  5. Please keep reading.

The will

EXT. Soravian foothills - morning
Coraline Dreams.
You dream of Death, and Rebirth.
You are a cultist, an adherent to a god mostly forgotten to the world of men. Your home is an ancient castle high in the mountains, maintained in parts, fallen to ruins in others. You know it well. You traverse its halls without thought, climb its stairs without issue.
You are climbing a staircase now - spiral, steep, and angular. The hard stone has worn edges. The only light is filtered from the landings above and below, but in lieu of a landing, what you come to is a branch of three new spirals, separating out in a mind-wrenching twist of magic and reality. You take the right-most one. To you, this is normal. This is life.
You're late, which is also normal. You slip into the back of the gathering quietly, though a few heads turn, and listen vaguely as the guy talks about the latest omens. Everything is omens, here. Sometimes they are familiar to you, something you feel you should know, something you've seen before, but can't quite place. Sometimes they just feel random, and you shake your head, for you know your fellow cultists are grasping at straws. But you don't say anything. They don't believe you. Nobody else remembers... another place. A time before. Something very different, but not. Deja vu.
So you keep it to yourself. You vaguely listen as the guy prattles on about the champion who will yet be chosen, the Voice they have been waiting for, for so long. You note, somewhere in the back of your mind, the disparate styles of clothing people are wearing - the cultist robes, of course, but mixed into it jeans, t-shirts, tunics, bangles and beads. A hundred years of different worlds' fashions, mixed and matched.
"Pass the trials," the guy says, "and we will know."
People aye at this, and then the group begins to disperse. It's time for omens, and as small as the cult has become in the past few centuries, everyone needs to look. Some people chant cultisty things.
You wander. You don't look for anything in particular, but you note patterns on the floor, warding circles of intricate interlapping shapes, placed seemingly at random at the junctions of corridors, at the tops of stairs. They remind you of something. Old magic. Sacrifice. Consequence. Binding. You note the lack of cats. There are never any cats.
Time passes. Days blur, each into the next. People find omens, and debate their meaning. You tell one guy who asks that yes, what he found was an omen, and you tell him what it means, but you're not quite sure what you told him after. He seems satisfied, though, and leaves, nodding. There is an air about everyone, a sort of defeated hopefulness. You retire to the basement, the buried archives. They document all the things you feel like you know. Strange beasts and great portals and organised peoples. A grey city and a tower looming high overhead, full of windows. A golden city full of portals. A red sea. A black... space. Words.
Almost nobody else can read the words, but to you, they paint memories.
Sometimes, in the back of your mind, you hear the whisper... "Coraline... Coraline..."
The first trial is an omen. As always, you show up late. Others have already come and presented rocks, plants, a burnt piece of toast. A woman is talking of the tangle of her yarn, and the crows that watched as she worked her way through it. You go up when she finishes, and say only, "Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow what?" people ask.
"You'll see," you say. You don't have anything, just a feeling. Something is going to happen. "Tomorrow."
Moths flutter up around, disturbed by something behind you. You feel something, a whisper of a shadow.
People nod. "Tomorrow," they agree.
As you go, a guy walks up with a duck, and smacks it down on the desk. "An omen," he says.
"That's a duck," someone says.
The duck looks up indignantly.
You don't stick around. You already know how the conversation ends.
The trials continue. You're okay. You show up. You fend someone off with a chunk of cardboard, and get poked in the stomach with a giant grass seed sheath. At some point you make a lot of really loud noises with a much smaller blade of grass, and people beg you to stop. There's food and games. People share secrets, and tell stories from long-lost times. You find yourself nodding, nostalgic. You remember. You know.
Of course you know. These are the same stories you tell every year. Nothing's changed.
"Cora," someone says, and you nearly jump. "You should tell the Fall. You tell it the best."
You oblige, telling it from the start - all three of the starts - and the room goes silent as everyone listens. Parts of it come out out of order, and you think a few aren't even the right story, but you go with it, weaving them together into a tragic tale of gods and demons, dreams and masks, love and betrayal. You include bits from the First Time, not even knowing what that was, and the binding of the nemesis, and the decline as the worlds slowly fall apart. You tell it in parallels, how they were all the same same, but different, each tragedy and every kindness building up to a brilliant end. And the end of it all is now: the ruins, the cult, the dead god all but forgot... but not. Because you all remember. You remember.
You trail off into silence. Everyone is staring. Did you do something wrong? Did you say too much? What can you do, or say, now that you've already said it all?
"We remember," someone says.
"We remember," others say, "We remember the fall. We remember the spirits. The gods. The guardians. We remember who we are." It builds up as a chorus, listing, chanting. "We remember the dead, the gone. We remember the god."
It's later. Another day. The trials are over, and you passed, somehow. People seem a bit surprised. You're a bit surprised. But now you're up there on the walls, on the parapets, with the lot of them, the chosen ones, the firsts. And also Bob. You're not really sure how Bob passed, either, and neither is Bob. You both sort of linger a bit off to the side in solidarity for your mediocrity. The wind pulls at your robes.
You're not sure what you're all waiting for. It's cold up here, and precarious, but the view is huge, mountains and valleys and plains stretching off into a summer haze. The floor of the wall underfoot is broken and uneven, the parapets not all there in some places, and not there at all in others.
Then the dragons appear. There are two of them, one red, and one black. They soar into view from behind the mountains, and swoop about each other in dips and twirls. One of them is yours. One of them... isn't.
"Omen!" someone shouts. You feel a pang of irritation. Obviously this is an omen.
The dragons fight. It's huge and terrible, but distant. You hear nothing, but imagine a soundtrack to go with it: a clatter of claws, the tearing of flesh. Booming shouts. It's like a dance.
"So which one are we rooting for?" Bob asks, leaning back against the inner parapet, which is much less crumbled.
"The black one," you reply, though from here they both look almost black.
"Far out," Bob says.
You can hear them, between their swoops and hovers, speaking to you, a deep voice booming in your bones and marrows. This is the god, they both are, for once speaking directly, for the first time in... you don't know. To you, it doesn't feel that long ago, but at the same time, you know it's been a very long time.
"Agh!" Bob yells. He's shaking his hand in the air, trying to get off something white and brown and sticky, but it won't come off. "I stepped in poo!" he says. "I mean, I got it in... argh!" You watch in bemusement as he dances around in disgust, wiping his hand at the stones behind him, stepping precariously close to the broken edge of the wall. He steps close, but not too close, once, twice, thrice, and you're amazed he doesn't fall off in his energetic movement, and amazed at how over the top his reaction really is for something so simple as a little revulsion. Finally he gives up, and, wiping his hand on the bottom of his robe, sags back into the more intact inner parapet muttering to himself.
"Are you all right?" you ask.
"Damn poo," he says.
"Sorry," you say, looking back to the dragons, but now they're gone. Whatever they were saying, you missed it.
The others are heading down, chattering excitedly, and you urge Bob along after them, pretending excitement as well, trying to catch what they're saying just in case it really was important. Ultimately, though, you just have no idea, and as everyone scatters into the hills and woods outside the castle, you look up at where the dragons had been, swooping, soaring, hovering. There had been something very familiar about that hover. Almost as if...
You get away from the others, past a strand of trees, into a grassy, shrubby valley, fairly flat around the shores of a marshy mountain lake. You find a rock and sit and try to compose yourself. This is bad. Very bad. You think you caught something, before getting totally distracted, something about a coming darkness. Something about the champion. Who was the champion? Why did this all feel so familiar?
There's a noise, a building, rumbling thunder, and then a loud thump behind some nearby trees ends it all very suddenly in a cloud of dust. You jump up in surprise and run toward the impact, pushing through the trees, only to find, amidst clods of dirt and broken branches, a mid-sized green hatchback.
You recognise it, generally, though not the exact make, and you also notice it's a rental, somehow. A rental car just fell out of the sky. Thundered out of the sky. But you don't stop to ponder even as your fellow cultists hurry out of the trees around to investigate as well, gathering, uncertain, chattering fearfully and keeping a respectful distance. They don't recognise it, don't know what it is, so you ignore them, and go right to it. It's surprisingly intact. Some of the doors work. There's nobody in the driver's seat at all, but a man is lying in the back seat, and you check on him - he's alive, but unconscious. You move on to check the boot as some other folks finally come over to tend to the man, and the hatch opens easily. You know exactly what to do. You remember, somehow.
It's full of dead people parts - mostly legs, somewhat rotted. Some eyeballs glare milkily at nothing in particular. A hand grasps out of the pile.
You don't remember that, and back away hastily.
Some people gasp upon seeing it. Someone pukes. You hurry away, leaving the entire thing behind you, retreating to the safety of the castle.
Business resumes as usual. The others bring back the man, and the parts, but he doesn't wake up. The parts are tended to by the keepers. There's chatter about the thing, as those who weren't there ask questions, and those who were look to you for answers. You don't have any. You don't know why they expect you to.
Then the strangeness starts. It's not much at first. Nobody really notices. But it builds. Someone goes missing one day. Someone finds all their clothes in disarray. The dead people parts, taken from the boot of the car, disappear. Then the cultists themselves start acting strange. People you've known your whole life, and who've known you, forget who you are. Forget who the god is. People mutter more, and stop responding. Sometimes, they seem almost as if they're after you.
You're being followed. Someone you once knew well is following you, not responding to their taken name. You turn to accost him, and he grabs you, pulling you toward him, so you shove back, twisting away. He stumbles, and falls backward down the steep spiral stairs, a blankness about him.
You look down. You're standing on one of the magic circles, and you realise what it might be for. Or at least, you realise it might be for something. You might be able to use it.
You retreat to the basement. Nobody bothers you here, and now you research. You search for darkness, and for what the cult is even here for. You search for things that would come after you. You search for... hatchbacks. You find things. Important things, random things. You find documentation of cars existing, once, long ago. You find documentation of the cult itself.
You find your name, or what might have been your name in another life.
It all comes together in a big, horrible picture you can't quite make out. Nemesis. Destroyer. Another name, buried. Peledeska.
You take it all with you, and hurry back up, climbing the spiral staircases, navigating the forks and branches, ignoring the impossibility of the geometry. You find your receptionist friend, Shoshanna, halfway up her tower, manning her desk as always. Her jewellery jangles as she looks up from her desk.
"Hey you," she says. She seems normal.
"Hey," you say. "Have you noticed people being a bit, well, odd lately?"
"Yeah!" She sighs in relief. "I thought it was just me. And here I almost never get out of my tower, so maybe I'm just missing something?"
"Definitely something," you say, dumping papers and notes down on the desk. "Help me go through all this, will you?"
Shoshanna does, but at the same time, she has a hard time reading it - any of it. It's as though she's fighting against something in order to do so, fighting her way through some invisible barrier placed around the words. But she doesn't relent, even as it causes her to shake from the exertion, even when she bleeds from the ears. You take her hand to try to comfort her, help her fight.
It's not her hand. It's one of the dead people parts from the car. Somehow it had gotten under her desk.
You recoil in horror, but you're still holding it, or perhaps it's now holding you. You hurl it at a window, up and out, shaking it off, and then it's gone.
"What was that?!" Shoshanna asks.
"You need to hide," you tell her. "Protect yourself, stay away from this."
"Oy, someone needs to be here," she says, gesturing at her desk. It's halfway up a tower, but you don't argue. She's right. Someone does. "Don't worry. I'll just pretend I'm one of them."
"Them?" you ask. And then you realise she's right. It is a 'them'. Somehow, something has taken over the cult, turning your cultists into something else. There is an 'us', which at the moment seems entirely limited to this room halfway up a tower, and a 'them', which is, in all likelihood, everyone else.
Everyone.
This was it. This was the coming darkness. The god tried to warn you, and you were supposed to be the champion. But you weren't even listening because Bob had gotten his hand in some poo, and now everyone's after you and you still don't even know what to do. What can you do? There isn't... anything, is there?
You realise you've wound up somewhere else in the castle. You don't even remember getting there. You don't remember... much of anything. Shoshanna. Shoshanna was holding the fort. Against... this. It has its hooks in you. You feel it, except not. You don't really feel much of anything, just not all there. That's all it is. Nothing.
The god. You still remember the god. Don't you? You think you do, at least. Except there's someone after you again. You listen, and no. It's too many footsteps, from too many directions. There's several people after you. You don't even have anything, there's no defense, no way out, no escape. You're forgetting too. You're not immune. How vain you were to think you were. You're not a champion of anything. You're not anything.
But you can still run. You don't need to give in. Even if you don't remember anything else, you can still keep going out of spite. You've always had a bit of that, if not in this life, then before.
You run. The footsteps follow, though your pursuers say nothing. You go up, and your practice pays off, always moving, walking the halls. Your feet remember, and you choose your path exactingly, spiral staircase to spiral staircase, navigating the uncanny branches even as your brain twists at the impossible angles.
You run, into darkness, in and out of shadows, on and on until you can't. You've been cornered. You didn't even hear the others coming, but suddenly they're coming at you from all sides, people you don't know at all, eyes blank and unseeing.
You stop. There's nothing else to do. They slow in response, advancing carefully on cornered prey.
There's a circle on the floor right next to you, this one is an elaborate pattern of crenallated squares, forming a star interwoven with strange writing, so you step inside. There's no reason not to try it. There's nothing else left.
They continue after you, and you hunker down, covering your head, not looking. If you don't look, maybe they won't see you.
Nothing happens. You don't look. You don't know what you'll see. Vaguely, you realise you don't know what you are.
You look up. There's a dead people part eyeball hovering in a window, looking down on you. The cultists, five of them, blank and unyielding, are all standing around you, right outside the bounds of the circle. They can't reach you. One of them pokes above the circle, but is stopped as though by an invisible barrier.
You kick at one of them, knocking him back a bit, but he just steps forward again.
This isn't supposed to happen. You know this. You're very clear on this. But they're possessed. Is that what they are? In your previous life, they'd always fought possession with religion, or the like. Or had you? Had that been you? Movies?
You try praying. You may not remember the god, but you remember remembering the god. You remember the ritual, the patterns of it all, and you chant. Most of it is nonsense. Some of it is Real. Some of it is stories. It doesn't matter. You pray and chant and half of it is a total bluff, designed to scare away whatever has taken over your peers regardless of what your god may or may not do, or be able to do. You're not sure. You're not sure it's anything.
You don't care.
And then somehow it works. Light bursts out of your chest, except it's warm, and really you're glowing. It's you. The fuzz in your head simply melts, and you remember. You remember who you are, you remember the god, you remember what the cult is actually supposed to be, and you're angry. You reach out an arm, glowing fiercely, beyond the bounds of the circle. One of the possessed tries to grab it, but the moment he touches you, he simply collapses.
The others bolt. The eye is gone. You run after a random one, because no, that's not how it's supposed to go, they're not supposed to just get away after all of that, that would hardly be fair, and then you manage to catch her. All it takes is a poke, and she falls, suddenly no more driven by whatever possessed her than you are.
You run after the others, chasing them down, chasing random other people down. They all run from you now, and you delight in the chase, relish the fear you can taste in their wake. You have all the power here, and their possessor none.
Except... that's not really true, is it? This is still a losing battle. You can get them back if you can reach them, but there's only one of you, and all of them. And you have no idea what even happened. Was it the guy in the rental car? The nemesis? How? She's dead. You killed her.
No, the god killed her. You're not the god. What is going on?
You wind up back in Shoshanna's tower, still glowing, a bit irked. She smiles vaguely as you enter, firmly seated behind her desk, her eyes bleeding, refusing to budge.
"I did it," she says tiredly, but triumphantly. "They couldn't take me. But I don't know how much longer..."
"Shh," you say. "It'll be all right now."
"Please, Cora, just kill me," Shoshanna says. "I managed this long, I think that's a hell of a feat, but..."
You go hug her, and she collapses into your embrace with relief as the power over her disappears. She starts laughing, even as a guy hiding in the closet bursts out and runs away.
"Oh, that is better. Okay," she says. "Now I'm glad you didn't listen."
"You always were the most stubborn," you say.
"Yeah, well, you should go get that guy," she says.
You chase him down. You chase everyone down, and poke them, hug them, grapple them. It doesn't matter; you just do whatever. And finally you get them all, except for a few, who simply aren't in the castle anymore, and a few others, who simply did not survive. The guy from the rental car is gone.
Your glow is faded, but not gone. You stare out over the ruins in anger, even as everyone in the castle behind you stumbles back into their day-to-day rhythms, picking up the pieces, wondering what happened to the past few days. This is not what should have happened. With their help, you fish out the other dead people parts, scattered throughout the castle in nooks and crannies for maximum effect, and burn them. You tell them it's handled. You tell them it was likely the nemesis, but you don't know. You tell them rental cars falling from the sky is clearly a bad omen, and apparently you're the champion. Everyone goes along with it. They don't know what else to do. They lament those who were lost, and hope the missing will be found.
You don't tell them that you possibly caused all this in the first place because you weren't actually paying attention.
Bob shows up behind you, and also doesn't mention this. Instead, he simply says, "Oh hi, did I miss something?"
You poke him, and ask, "Where've you been?"
"Digging," he says.


Coraline peers blearily about. She's still tied to a tree, but now notices this one is a conifer, the rough bark digging into her back, the smell reminding her of better times. She looks up, watching needles as they trickle down from time to time to the frosty ground.
She's sore. Everything about her is sore, to the point where it hardly even registers anymore. This is just how it is.
VARDAMAN
Amadi.
Vardaman is seated by the horses a couple of metres away.
VARDAMAN
Will you speak?
Only now does Coraline realise she's no longer gagged.
CORALINE
Oh... er...
VARDAMAN
Is your name Amadi?
CORALINE
Yes.
VARDAMAN
You said you were a Carrier for over four years. How did it happen?
CORALINE
I... don't know.
VARDAMAN
There would have been another Carrier. Someone probably attacked you, tried to eat your soul?
Coraline shakes her head.
CORALINE
No, there wasn't anyone. When I came to Cerris I was completely alone.
VARDAMAN
But when did it start? The hunger. The voices.
CORALINE
When I came here. The voices just... started happening, so faint I didn't even notice at first.
I didn't meet another living person until much later.
VARDAMAN
Where were you?
CORALINE
Delunn. There's a lot of nothing there. I was starting to wonder if I'd even wound up on an inhabited world, or if I'd just be alone forever. It was only a couple of months, but it felt... longer.
When I finally got to civilisation, it was all destroyed. A road, but with broken bridges. A few clusters of buildings, burnt husks. Everyone dead. I got to a town, finally, and it was just more of the same. Everything was burnt. Bodies were everywhere. I had to break the gates open. They were barred from the outside.
Inside was...
Coraline just stops.
VARDAMAN
What?
CORALINE
There were two Carriers. I killed the first one quickly, before he could really do anything, but even then I recognised... something about him. Familiar. Intriguing.
The second was... different. I don't know how, or what she was. She seemed... coherent. She seemed to have a goal. She wanted me to join her, and of course, I really, really wanted to, but there was something also just wrong about it all. Voices. Audible. I heard them, really, there, for the first time.
I don't know what happened. At some point I just lost myself. And then I came to my senses, and she was dead. I'd slit her throat, somehow. The knife was in my hand. The blood on the floor was on me, too. But I don't remember it.
I've never seen anything like it since. I've never heard of anything like it.
But after, after, I started to notice. I noticed the voices, the whispers in the leaves, the cries in the wind. Chatter in the mountain creeks. Roaring in the fire, and screams. They had been there all along, sounded so much like the world I was in, but not. It wasn't that at all.
Once I heard them, I couldn't un-hear them.
VARDAMAN
And then you knew what you were.
CORALINE
No! I had no idea. I thought maybe it was normal. That there were spirits, or something. I mean, there are spirits - everywhere, little mushroom things, mites, glowing sprites and warbling ghostlights. Ash demons drifting around everywhere there's been people, or warmth. Shadows that drift across old paths. Trees. I thought maybe I was hearing them.
But the more I listened, the more I realised it wasn't that. It didn't seem to be tied to anything. Except magic. I found I could do magic. And I found that every time I did, the voices got worse.
We don't have anything like this where I'm from. I only found out much later. After I'd already gone full Carrier and managed to sort of recover by wandering into a bar and accidentally ordering some shalott. After I'd learned how to treat it, how to stay drunk and stay myself. After I'd met you.
Vardaman watches her consideringly, just listening.
CORALINE
I only found out when we were leaving. I'd gotten passage on this ship, and some of the crew were talking about how glad they were to finally be getting out of there, how there were reports of Carriers around. I asked what that was, roundaboutly, and after they'd gotten through describing it all I realised maybe... they meant me.
VARDAMAN
That was in Telegrin?
CORALINE
Yes.
VARDAMAN
And you went... full Carrier there?
CORALINE
I sort of recovered about a week before we met.
VARDAMAN
Fuck. That... was you. I was there hunting you.
CORALINE
Well, er... sorry.
VARDAMAN
Sorry?
CORALINE
What do you want me to say? I didn't want to be this way. I didn't want to turn into something horrible and... horrible. I'm sorry you weren't able to stop me before I managed to eat a bunch of people, but I'm not sorry I managed to get better.
Vardaman sighs.
VARDAMAN
And how many souls would have been saved?
CORALINE
I've been able to control it, since. The only times I've really slipped a bit of vodka fixed it. Nobody's gotten hurt.
VARDAMAN
You don't remember Somn's Post?
CORALINE
Besides that. That was... unfortunate.
VARDAMAN
Because you destroyed a man's soul, or because I was there to see it?
CORALINE
You really have a low opinion of me, don't you?
Vardaman starts to get up.
CORALINE
Push a...
Vardaman jumps at Coraline, landing heavily on a knee next to her, and covers her mouth, interrupting her.
VARDAMAN
Do you really think it would be that easy?
Coraline smiles behind his hand.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Agata?
Vardaman regags her, being not particularly gentle.
Coraline doesn't fight him.
AGATA
(mind voice)
What?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
He's kind of fast.
AGATA
(mind voice)
He's a Deathdealer.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
And he's really not going to like what I'm going to do next.
AGATA
(mind voice)
I'll be sure to come out and watch.



Later, Vardaman does all the usual pre-leaving things to Coraline. Agata watches interestedly from a tree as he searches Coraline and then has her piss.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Well?
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Not yet.
Vardaman takes Coraline over to the horses.
AGATA
(mind voice)
If this is some scheme to leave me behind...
CORALINE
(mind voice)
You'll probably claw out my eyeballs, I know.
AGATA
(mind voice)
Oh, I wouldn't go that far. But it would wound me terribly.
Vardaman lifts Coraline onto the horse of the moment, and mounts immediately after.
At the same time, Coraline takes the life of the horse and turns it out, and the horse collapses under them, dead.
Vardaman tumbles aside, pulling Coraline with him, and then gets up quickly, yanking her up as well, holding her close.
VARDAMAN
How did you do that?
Coraline gives him her best mimed shocked look.
Agata peers down curiously from a nearby branch.
VARDAMAN
(casting over Coraline)
Sleep hold!
Coraline becomes paralysed, unable to move.
Agata shrinks back behind another branch, out of sight. Some needles trickle down.
Vardaman dumps Coraline on the ground and sets about transferring all the useful stuff off the dead horse and onto the one remaining one. He places a hand on the horse's shoulder, murmuring soothingly, and hoists Coraline over its back in front of the saddle, face-down.
Coraline kills this horse, too, and it begins to collapse like the first. Vardaman yanks her off as it falls, jumping back.
Vardaman drops Coraline on the ground, backing up even further.
Vardaman finally just stops and and stares.
Coraline lies there, totally unable to move.
VARDAMAN
How... the fuck...
AGATA
Okay, that was pretty funny.
Vardaman looks up sharply, and Agata jumps up onto a higher branch, peering down warily.



Vardaman ties Coraline back to the tree, removing the gag, dismissing the paralysis spell.
Coraline just watches him.
VARDAMAN
Why?
Coraline doesn't respond.
VARDAMAN
Why kill the horses? What does that possibly get you?
CORALINE
Arbitration is determined by who wins in practice. I need more time.
VARDAMAN
What?! Don't you understand I'm trying to help you? The Keepers in Abearanoth are the only ones who have a chance of figuring this out, and the sooner I get you to them, the more of a chance that becomes!
CORALINE
You don't know that. You don't know if they can, or if they're the only ones who could...
Let me save myself. Stop stopping me.
VARDAMAN
Why are you fighting me? This is all done for your sake.
CORALINE
If that were true, I wouldn't be tied up like this.
VARDAMAN
You have no idea what is good for you.
Coraline snorts.
VARDAMAN
How did you do it?
Prepared actions? A still silent spell? Gifts? Are you... using the Death of Souls somehow?
CORALINE
I...
(mind voice)
Wait, I'm not getting this from the Death of Souls, am I?
AGATA
(mind voice)
You're a witch. It's normal witch stuff.
Besides, you always get worse when you use it, so it's probably more like the opposite. Your power is likely what's keeping you alive fighting it off.
VARDAMAN
What?
CORALINE
I'm a wizard, mate.
Vardaman just stares at her.
CORALINE
Okay, fine. I'm a witch, right? Witches have knacks, things we can do innately, without any casting or whatever. Mine seem to revolve around life and death. I can heal, and I can kill with a touch.
VARDAMAN
That's all it takes? A touch?
CORALINE
Yes.
VARDAMAN
And you use this on people?
CORALINE
Just Carriers. Otherwise if I have to kill someone I'd really rather it not be so... personal.
VARDAMAN
(dubiously)
Personal.
CORALINE
I feel everything that they are. And then I snuff it out.
VARDAMAN
And I suppose I'm next?
CORALINE
You were first. It didn't work on you.
And once I gave myself up as a Voice, I couldn't exactly try something else. Killing each other is not an appropriate arbitration.
VARDAMAN
No. It isn't.

Building trees

EXT. Lauhen sea - morning
It's a bright and sunny morning, with useless clouds littering the sky, and horrible amounts of beating sun glaring down, bouncing off the waves, and generally just lingering in the air.
A small pile of fish is on the floor of the raft. A much larger pile of weapons is next to it.
Nolan has a hatchet tied to the side of his head.
Erry is holding a fishing pole, but not using it.
Kit is poking a fish repeatedly with a makeshift wand.
Jora is lying in the sun, her eyes covered with a cloth, ignoring all of this.
ERRY
It's so sunny. Why is it so sunny?
NOLAN
It's summer.
ERRY
It's not summer.
KIT
We're lost at sea.


EXT. Lauhen sea - afternoon
It's bright and sunny. The sky is a grand blue expanse, with even grander, towering cloud masses completely failing to do anything to the sun. The weapon pile has overflowed over the side of the raft.
KIT
Look. Clouds.
JORA
It is summer.
Erry smacks Kit with a fish.
KIT
Agh!
Nolan hands Kit a fish, and Kit smacks Erry right back.
Jora backs away, and then tries to grab Kit.
Erry smacks Kit even harder, and winds up hitting Jora as well in the process.
Nolan throws a fish at Erry.
Kit smacks Jora with a fish.
JORA
Guys, stop. Stop!
Nolan hands Jora a fish.
Jora looks at it, confused, and gets hit by another fish, and then slaps right back with her own fish.
This goes on for a bit. Sometimes one of them drops their fish, and Nolan passes each of them new fish to replace them.


EXT. Lauhen sea - morning
It's another day. It's exactly the same as the previous. The kids are sprawled about, doing nothing.
The pile of weapons is somewhat flatter now.
ERRY
It was summer. It's not gonna be summer again.
NOLAN
Different summer. We're on the other side now.
No significance of this occurs to anybody. Nobody responds at all, for a bit.
KIT
And we're lost at sea.


EXT. Luahen sea - night
It's night. The kids are mostly asleep. The huge pile of weapons is glinting dully. Nolan is sitting on the edge of the raft, peering out beyond the curtains, saying nothing, watching.
Jora nudges Kit and Erry awake.
JORA
You'll want to see this.
The vast expanse of stars is muted, only the brightest standing out, the constellations clear. The horizon, though, is awash with colour, glowing in all directions.
Then they stand, and see the sea. The surface is a brilliant canvas, full of swirling colour, greens and blues and purples, swirling into luminous depths. It shimmers and glitters as though spirits were dancing beneath the surface, and yet the surface itself is utterly still, like glass. Mermaids drift up and kiss the surface, before darting back down. The night is silent.
KIT
Woah.
ERRY.
What is it? Are those...
Jora shakes her head.
Kit trips over the weapon pile, gets up quickly, and kicks a few of them overboard, peering over the side of the raft.
KIT
Something under the water, whatever it is.
NOLAN
Boom.
Nolan topples into the water with a small splash.
Nobody really responds to this at first, until a few seconds go by and nothing else happens.
Jora and Kit peer into the water where Nolan fell, but all they see are iridescent swirls of glow in the depths.
KIT
Either he comes back or he doesn't.



About an hour later, the lights are still dancing, the sea still still.
Nolan reaches out of the water and climbs back into the raft very suddenly.
KIT
Find anything?
NOLAN
There are no sheep here.


EXT. Luahen sea - afternoon
It's a day. It's very blue. There are no clouds.
Jora is meditating, or attempting too.
Erry is juggling fish. Sometimes fish slap into people and things around her.
Nolan is soliciting yet even more weapons from Kit. Kit has started just chucking all of them at Nolan's head.
Some of the weapons in the now very large pile are no longer white - a few are glassy clear. One sword is black and shiny.
Jora grabs a dropped fish out of the air and smacks Erry with it, hard, knocking the girl over.
Erry stares at her in surprise.
Kit stops making pointless daggers.
Nolan frowns.
JORA
Enough! Enough of all this. Surely we must have something, be able to do something. Nolan, do you have any idea where we are? Can you not use the stars to determine our location?
NOLAN
Yes. I have.
JORA
Well?
NOLAN
I do not know what is at any location near to us.
JORA
Kit, do you...
Kit watches her expectantly.
JORA
Feck. What about... what do we even have with us? What have we brought?
KIT
What?
JORA
Turn out your pockets.
Jora shoves aside the giant weapon pile, pushing it against a wall and curtain and knocking a good half of it overboard.. Some of the newer swords sink. She upends her bag and pulls some stuff out of her own pockets, which turns out to be mostly lint, along with a few keys and a small knife.
Jora indicates the much smaller pile of only partly weapons and eyes the others expectantly.
Kit and Erry come over toward the pile.
Nolan drops a large stuffed bear onto the pile. It's almost as large as he is.
KIT
(stopping)
Whaaat.
Erry hugs her own, much smaller, mostly hairless moose. They are mostly the same animal.
Nolan pulls a full-sized shovel out of his pocket, and then dropped a magic bag on top of the bear, causing part of its head to disappear, the bag collapsing flatly across it as though containing nothing.
KIT
Oh.
A gog crawls out of the bag.
Erry picks up the bag, sticks her head inside, and then starts pulling things out, adding them to the pile. Several more gogs also tumble out.
Kit tosses in some things from his own pockets.
Nolan very slowly adds a sheep rib, a pair of mismatched socks, and a small knife to the pile.
JORA
Good. Anything else?
Erry tosses a dirty lump into the pile.
They wind up with a heap of mostly lint, partly junk, a whole lot of random toys and tools and bits of broken things, a surprisingly good spade, not nearly enough alchemical ingredients, an ineffective amount of currency, some random bits of food and way too many ration blocks, enough martial weapons to wage a small war, and a giant wad of yarn. And 13 gogs.
One of the gogs holds up a sign. It says, 'hello'.
One of the original two gogs holds up another sign, which also says 'hello'.
KIT
Hi. Why do we have gogs, again?
ERRY
So this is who we are, distilled down to simple items.
KIT
What?
JORA
It's a start. It's potential.
Jora pushes Nolan at the pile.
Nolan digs through it a bit and then holds up the flaky brown lump that had been the contents of Erry's pockets.
KIT
Do I even wanna know?
ERRY
Do you ever?
JORA
What is it? Dirt?
Nolan sits down and bashes the lump against the floor of the raft, breaking it up into smaller clods of dirt. Embedded within it are some twigs, a key, two spoons, a few clips, a knuckle die, and several peach stones. Their total volume more than doubles that of the original lump.
KIT
How in the world...
NOLAN
(holding up one of the stones)
Boom.
JORA
Can you grow that?
Kit takes the stone from Nolan and looks it over.
KIT
There's only one way to find out.


EXT. Lauhen sea - evening
The raft is rather a mess. The awning is gone, the poles broken. The freshwater barrels are smashed. The iceforged weapon pile is scattered everywhere, mostly in the ocean, random weapons and pieces of weapons floating sadly away. Peach leaves and twigs are everywhere. Jora is bleeding from an arm.
The four kids watch forlornly as the very large peach tree floats away, half-dead already, half-sunk in the waves.
KIT
That didn't work.
NOLAN
Can you make it work?
KIT
Can you keep it from falling out?
NOLAN
Can you balance it?
KIT
Maybe. But can I keep it from getting poisoned by all the salt? And from eating itself? And make it grow, but then stop growing? And make peaches? It would be a lot more useful if it made peaches.
NOLAN
Can you?
Kit shrugs.
Nolan hands him another peach stone.
Kit holds it up in one hand, and starts shaping the spell with his other.
KIT
uu dalamo ido!
The stone begins to sprout, the first leaves and blunt roots growing out.
KIT
yäig yakit ineigobio.
The roots branch into imaginary soil, reaching down, even as the seedling forms true leaves and begins to bud.
Kit takes it over to one of the corners of the raft.
KIT
iuol ke yäig.
Kit holds the sapling over the side of the raft, shoving the reaching roots into the water. Some of them cling to and grow along the sides of the raft, but the rest go down, hungrily feeding off the seawater and its illusions. The trunk thickens, branching, putting out leaves and dropping others.
KIT
udun mur ugarak uaimo! Guide the roots! We need it to stay up this time!
It's chaos. Kit holds his hands on the trunk while the others scramble around, guiding the roots around the sides of the rafts, and Kit meanwhile guides the rest down, holding the trunk straight, holding the entire shape of the tree in his mind. The tree is huge now, the trunk a foot in diameter, and the shape is only a little bigger, the idea simply more balanced... roots below, tree above...
Wood creaks around them.
KIT
mamanäïm tasigum...
ERRY
Agh!
The tree's growth slows. Roots snake around the raft, seeking, sticking, growing out hairs. Erry yanks her arm out of between one and the wall and it draws blood.
A peach falls on Kit's head, and then a snaking root trips him, knocking him back.
The tree stills, rustling overhead. The growth stops.
Petals drift down. Felled leaves are all over, covering the raft, rotting away already underfoot. Above, the vibrant green leaves on the tree rustle in the wind, covering the raft and a good area of water around, blotting out the still glowing sky.
Erry and Jora get up uncertainly.
Kit stares up at it blankly.
Peaches fall vaguely around them, some splatting on the raft, others splashing into the sea.
Nolan catches one and bites into it.
NOLAN
Yes.
KIT
Yes?
NOLAN
This one seems to have worked.
Kit hastily rolls aside as another peach splats where his head was.
Peaches continue to splat down around them.
KIT
(not getting up)
So I think...
JORA
(cutting him off)
If you mention one more time how we're lost at sea, you will regret it.
KIT
Oh, no, no, that's pretty firmly established at this point.
I was just going to say, maybe this is an improvement. Over before.
ERRY
(through a peach)
Hmm?
KIT
Being lost at sea.
Kit falls asleep, not even closing his eyes.
A peach hits him in the side of the head.
This does not wake him at all.

The sacrifice

EXT. Soravian foothills - day
Vardaman loads what supplies he can into his bags, and leaves the rest with the dead horses, taking Coraline on on foot. The going is much slower now, Vardaman holding Coraline's arm, walking her along, holding her up as she stumbles, keeping her from falling when she trips.
Coraline doesn't really pay attention, moving on autopilot, staring off into space, being as slow and unhelpful as she can. She plays the part of not being all there even when she is, so that when she slips out into the Grey Lobby to practice and learn, it simply looks like more of the same.
They don't stop, don't rest, continuing on into the night. When Coraline falls and refuses to continue, not responding, Vardaman simply picks her up and carries her.
She takes the opportunity to sleep, and Dream.
You dream of Oaths, and Duty. You are a Deathdealer, sworn to Kyrule and the sanctity of death.
You're in a street, in a mountain town with high stone walls and stone buildings. The air is chill, but the sun is bright. Mushy snow hangs droopily off the roofs. People pass you by, and by your armour and robes, they know what you are, but there is no fear, only curiosity, and respect.
You walk along, observing, noting what you see. Kids playing in the snow. Men carting supplies about. A young woman, running door to door, giving out good news. You hail her, and ask what it is.
She grins, excited. "Mattias proposed!" she says. "He proposed and he's been calling all season, but now it's real, we're going to be married. Married! I'm so excited I don't even..." she trails off. "I'm sorry. You don't... do you have anyone? Waiting for you?"
You shake your head, smiling. "I don't," you tell her. "But congratulations. I'm glad for you."
"Thanks!" she says, bobbing her head. She hops off, on about her announcements, and you wonder, vaguely, at the commonplace. The relationships people have, the families they build. While you're never alone, exactly, you're always... alone.
The sun tilts. There is something off. The vague sense that precedes danger, tipping you off even before anything happens, but what you sense now is big, bigger than anything you've felt before. The whole world feels like an impending cave-in, and yet the sky is clear, the birds are singing, the people are going about their lives. Your fingers twitch toward your sword, but there is nothing there, nothing to fight. Normalcy, chattering around you.
You wait. You give it time. You talk and chat. But the feeling persists, worsens.
You feel eyes on you, but when you turn, there's noone there. A white cat, sitting on a post, watching the street disinterestedly.
Elves pass through, travelling, touristing. They greet you, and make the old gestures: a note of understanding what you are, what you've sacrificed. You return them: willing sacrifice, willing blade. Only the elves use these anymore, but you learn them still, for the elves.
One of them asks you, "How are things? Is everything good?"
You tell him, "I don't know, I just don't know."
"Should we go?" one of the women asks, softly, leaning close.
"Yes," you say.
The elves continue on, not stopping.
But nothing happens.
The feeling fades.
In the night, an old man comes to you. "It's my daughter," he says. "I don't know what's wrong. She won't answer." He takes you to his home. The night is cold, the moon bright, the growing frost sparkling on the ground. There is little sound, only the roaring of the wind in the trees beyond the walls, and little light from the buildings, as you follow him up the narrow streets and stairways to a house like all the rest, stone, multi-story, small windows shuttered shut. He fumbles at the door and ushers you inside, and directs you up.
The woman is sitting on her bed, hazy, uncertain. You go to her, sitting beside her, and ask what's wrong, but she doesn't answer, doesn't look up. You touch her, tilt her heard toward yours, and finally she looks at you, terrified.
"It's you," she whispers. "It was always you."
"I don't understand," you say. "What's me?"
"The end," she whispers, and leans forward as if to kiss you. As her lips touch yours, you realise she's doing something else, and everything about you screams in revulsion. You grab her head, break her neck, and suddenly it stops.
Her father charges you with a knife, but you're up immediately, and you effortlessly disarm him. He lunges for your throat. You bring your fist down on his head, and he collapses at your feet.
The stillness hangs like anvils. The silence loiters, and skitters away on tiny feet. Someone's watching. You slip back out into the night, uncertain what just happened, uncertain what to do.
Day comes with only more uncertainty. The tone of the town has changed. There's worry amidst the cheer. Uncertainty. People seek you out, and ask if you have magic, if you can help. Their loved ones are falling ill, going silent, disappearing.
You make house calls, all about the town, checking each, and each, and each, and the cat follows from time to time, a white shadow. One boy has a fever. You recognise it as a common thing, a winter ailment, and drop a small heal on him to hurry it along. "You'll be fine," you tell him. His muffled "nks," lingers in your ears like a ghost as you head onto the next - two girls, twins, who refuse to go outside. They've retreated into the corner of the cellar, shying away. You go down the dry wooden stairs quietly, feeling their bounce as they creak underfoot.
"Hello?" you call out, trying not to alarm. "Aisha? Medina?"
"It's all right, girls," their mother calls from the doorway above you. "She's a friend."
There's no response. You stop at the base of the stairs and listen, noting the shape of the room, the shelves and heaps and bins of supplies, the barrels and bottles. You can see most of it without seeing, but you wait for your eyes to adjust regardless, listening as the dust trickles down, as the shadows shift, as a mouse skitters in the dark. Their breathing is soft, fluttery, confused. Something brushes by your feet, but then it's gone.
You go to the girls. They're huddled together, all fluffy skirts and tiny braids, tucked into a corner behind a barrel of grain. They shrink back as you approach, pulling in their feet, tucking in their heads. "It's all right," you tell them. "I won't hurt you."
One of them looks up, staring at you, staring... through you. You can't tell, but in the low light, her eyes seem only gleaming, dark. "It's all right," she replies, quietly, calmly. Her sister is breathing sharply next to her, her face buried in her sister's chest. "I'll hurt you," she says.
"Aisha?" you ask, but the girl staring at you don't reply. "Medina," you correct yourself. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she says. "We like it."
"Does Aisha?" you ask.
Medina leans down and bites her sister's ear, tearing it off.
You jump forward, trying to separate them, but they just fall away from each other, Aisha tumbling behind you, rising slowly, not looking up, not even seeming to notice her missing, bleeding ear. Medina gets up too, slowly, deliberately, smiling, blood streaming down her chin. She spits out the ear.
"Keepers," you whisper.
Medina jumps at you, and you grab her, backing up, pulling a knife out of your belt. Aisha jumps at you too, and you knock her away with a quick slash at her chest, but Medina is squirming in your other arm, kicking, trying to bite you. You slit her throat quickly, dropping her as you turn, but Aisha doesn't try to jump you again. Instead she backs away, blood streaming down the side of her head, staring, her eyes blank, black, gleaming.
"No," Aisha whispers. "It hurts. It hurts."
"I know," you tell her. "I can help you. I can end your pain."
"There's no end," the girl says, still backing away.
You move forward, and in an instant you're right in front of her. You stop her, dropping to your knees, holding her in place, and she tenses, but does nothing. Her breathing is a flutter. Her heartbeat is a flutter. Something else, too, is fluttering. You sink your blade into her chest, and it stops, but she just stares at you with her strange eyes, staring, staring, staring.
You hold her as she fades, and lower her to the floor. In the darkness, there is only silence. The mouse is still. The dust is quiet.
You return to their mother with the blood still on your hands. "I'm sorry," you tell her. "It was too late."
"Too late?" she whispers. "Too late for what? What was wrong?"
"It was..." You stop uncertainly. She's not even looking at you. She's looking behind you, staring, frozen. And then you sense it.
You turn quickly, drawing your sword.
There's nothing there.
"You see it," she says, her voice a sharp deadpan. "You hear them too."
You glance back, but the woman is still staring at the point, the space. Where nothing is.
"What are they saying?" you ask.
She starts laughing, first a long, rolling chuckle, rising into a shrill cackle, and then stopping all at once. "I don't know!" she exclaims, all boisterous confusion.
You place a hand on her chest, sensing for harm. You sense... something. Different. Alien. Missing. She is the same, but different. The handprint you leave behind is indistinct, a red smudge.
She turns away, heading into a different room, and you follow. She doesn't seem to notice you, or remember. She doesn't seem to notice anything, just stopping again, staring at another space with nothing there. Nothing that you can see. Gently, you take her head from behind and slit her throat, stepping back quickly as she falls. A shadow spreads vaguely outward, before disappearing.
You wipe your hands and hurry to the next house. You know, now, what is happening. The only question is how bad it is.
It's later. It's bad. You leave more blood, more bodies, more lost souls in your wake. Sometimes, you think you see other things, too, but it never is, just more of the same, same, same. Those few who were there who don't seem infected, you warn to stay where they are, not go out.
You call for the town's leadership, and they gather in the temple at evening's close, in the shadow of the statue of Alyre, whose vibrant promise only casts a shadow on your words. In the corner of your eyes, you see it vibrate, almost, but when you look, the goddess is still, frozen in an instant of dance.
The townsfolk watch you fearfully, expectantly. They think you can solve this, protect them. You don't know that it's possible.
The cat is also there, sitting serenely, watching curiously.
"Close the gates," you tell them. "Seal the town. No one must leave, or enter."
They ask why, and you briefly consider what you can even tell them. The truth is huge and could cause a panic. Anything less might be disregarded.
"It's the Death of Souls," you tell them. "Several cases, around. There is no telling who else may be infected. Have people stay inside, not go out, not interact. Stay with their families. Once you spread the word, you do the same. Nobody should act as a go-between."
They stare at you with mingled expressions of disbelief and fear. You do your best to allay it, to explain, to direct.
"But then how will they manage? Who will comfort them?" This is the priestess, the keeper of the temple, dressed in mismatched colours and vibrant styles. Her jewellery marks her for what she is, but her stance marks her as... what? Her stance is normal. She's normal. Of everyone here, she's perhaps the most normal of all.
You try to smile reassuringly. "They will not be alone," you say. "The gods will hear them no matter where they are. Ensure they have a place to return to when this is over."
She nods uncertainly.
"I will make the rounds," you tell them. You do not need to explain what this means.
You walk the streets. You listen to the soft, thready heartbeat of the town. You feel eyes on you from all sides, hear shutters clack when you look up. People aren't sleeping. Soft snow drifts down lazily, sticking as the night goes on, muffling your footsteps, adding a squeak. You trace the other tracks and count. People are out. One in particular, small feet, long stride. Zig and zag. Steps retraced, fading in the new snow. Gleaming dark, sharp and fresh. Doubling back, and forth.
Padding behind you is the cat, white as the snow, dark nose and eyes following you with interest.
You pause, wiping the snow off your bushy hair, pulling it back before it gets any wetter. A flake lands on your fingers, bright contrast against your dark skin, and you watch it in the briefest instant before it melts away, trickling down. Everything is silence around you. The world is changed, white, perfect.
Snowflakes drift down like butterflies, lazily, dancingly.
Whispers flutter through the snow.
You hold your hand to doors, fingers splayed, sensing. Normal. Normal. Something... else. You knock, and knock again. Someone stirs inside, and asks, "Who's there?"
"The Deathdealer," you tell them.
The door opens slightly, a crack, and a boy, a teenager, peers out at you suspiciously.
"What do you want?" he asks.
"There's something here," you say.
He starts to close the door, but you push it open, forcing him aside, and enter with horrible certainty, like an iceberg.
"There's nothing," he says defensively, backing away.
You reach out to test him, but he backs up even further. "Don't resist me," you tell him. "You will fail."
"I'm not afraid of you," he says.
You give him a curious look. He should be afraid, and he is, but he doesn't want you to see it. You try again, approaching deliberately, and this time he stands his ground as you place your hand to his chest, sensing, feeling, listening. You nod, withdrawing your hand, and he sighs in relief.
You cast into the air, searching for others, and find two, apart, in the other rooms. The first you check - a girl, about the same age as the boy, with long black hair - and she, too, is fine. The other, an older woman, jumps you with a giant spoon as you open the door, clonking you on the head.
You give her a surprised look and say, "Ma'am?"
She drops the spoon, scooting away, throwing up her hands. "I'm sorry!" she cries. "I'm so sorry. I thought you were... someone else."
"Who?" you ask.
"I... I don't know," she says, uncertainly. "One of... them?"
You glance back. The boy is watching you from the hall.
You approach her, hold out your hand. "May I?" you ask.
She nods. You place your hand on her chest. She explodes in front of you, showering blood, falling to the ground in a grisly, broken confusion, as a grinning face and hands like claws, red with blood, burst forth from behind her. The creature lunges at you, still grinning, gleaming.
You smack at it. It grabs your arm, its claws digging into your armour, and you try to free yourself, but it reaches for your head with its spare hand.
"Mom!" the boy shrieks, running in.
You lift the creature, spinning about, using your momentum to keep it from the rest of you, and slam it down into the floor, your fist punching through its bones and soft organs. It hisses, scrabbling furiously, scratching at your arm, kicking, biting, but it's no longer gripping. You swap fist for foot, pinning it down under your boot as you rise and draw your sword.
You bring the blade down in a quick motion, impaling it through the skull, stabbing into the floor, and the creature stills immediately. A shadow bursts forth around it, dissipating quickly, as the blackness fades from its eyes. The claws turn back to hands.
Behind you, the boy is sobbing, "No, mom, mom, mom..." He stops as you turn back to him, and then falls to his knees, staring off into space.
He was too close.
You pull your sword out of the floor, out of the... man, and move for the boy. He startles, hopping back, and you see a reflection of your expression in his reaction. Cold. Dead. Merciless.
He flees. You throw your sword. The blade sinks into his back, and he falls at the doorway.
You move on. You check other homes. You kill the infected, no mercy, no hesitation, even as their family members beg you not to. If they're not infected, you tell them to stay back. If they are, or they ignore you and are caught by their dear ones' death novas, then you kill them too.
You follow the tracks in the snow, but they never quite lead anywhere, always going somewhere else, somewhere else, somewhere else.
The snow stops. Night gives way to day, but the streets remain deserted. Mostly the townsfolk do as they are told, staying inside, not moving about. A few try to flee. The guards man the walls, block the gate, armed with bows and arrows. They are told to shoot any who come, and not let them get close. At first they hesitate, uncertain, so you step in, cutting down the fleeing folk with brutal efficiency. Death novas burst around you.
"They are gone already. Do not take the risk, or you, too, will die," you tell them.
After, they do not hesitate.
You continue your rounds. More die, and more, and more. You feel the weight of their souls as a horrible toll, but by the time they meet your sword, they're all already gone. Soulless. Shells. Hungering.
The one thing you don't understand is how. How did it get so bad?
You're following the tracks again, the small feet with the long stride. The running child you never see. The white cat follows you, wings folded primly, never getting too close, never exactly approaching. You glance back, and it sits, meeting your gaze, then glancing away.
You're at the temple. You go in. There are people here, sitting, praying. They look at you fearfully, guiltily, but you stride past, paying them little heed. At the altar is a basin of water, and you lean over it heavily, trying not to show your own fear. You glance at the statue, then touch the water, and whisper, "For all who have fallen, may the gods find their souls. May there yet be solace."
You bow, making the signs for the dead, and leave.
Outside, you find the girl, waiting, small and lithe, standing in the settling snow. You know who she is even before you see her tracks, all around, obvious, directionless. The running child. She looks at you askance. A lopsided grin plays on her face.
"You shouldn't be out," you tell her, going to her. She watches defiantly, grinning up at you, as you place a hand on her head.
You try to determine if she's one of them, if she's infected. You can't tell.
"What are you doing out?" you ask her. She doesn't answer. It doesn't matter. You make up your mind. "Gods take you sweetly if I am wrong," you whisper, and hold her still. She struggles, vainly, against your grip. You stab her quickly, deeply. She screams, thrashing, and loses her breath.
It only gets worse. The town gets worse. The streets are silent. You leave the bodies in the streets. They begin to disappear.
People panic. The remaining households flood out into the streets, yelling for everyone else to come too, pounding on doors. Chaos explodes as nearly everyone else comes too. You try to stop it, and the guards try to help, but it's a losing battle as you're surrounded by infected and uninfected alike, yelling, jostling, as they press for the gates.
"What are you going to do, kill us all?" someone yells, and the cry is taken up, all around, in a wave that carries you with. You fight your way free, pushing through the crowd, retreating to the gates, making it there just ahead of everyone else. You hold your sword on the townsfolk, the mask and skull sigil a dark mark just below the hilt promising endings.
"Stop!" you command. "Turn back now." Several of the guards stand with you, bows in hand. They knock back at the crowd with their shafts.
The townsfolk stop, crowding around, pressing at you and seven guards.
"You can't kill us all," someone says.
"I can," you reply. "I will."
They yell. They charge. You slash at them, fighting back, cutting the townsfolk crowd down with deadly efficiency, even as more trample toward you, and more, and more. The guards stand with you, fighting as well, knocking back, shooting, stabbing, and more than anything, you admire their bravery. For you, this is your duty, simply something you have to do. But for them, these are their friends, their peers, people they knew well, and loved, and they have no protection against them, no god-given immunity. It is almost inconceivable, what they are doing.
Death novas burst, spreading shadow, spreading the curse, forming a wall of infection in front of everything. Your guards have all been infected, and yet still they fight, still they stand by you. The mob presses, and presses, and presses, the bodies piling high, until suddenly it doesn't. The remainder hang back, uncertain, backing off.
You go to them, climbing over the dead, and your guards go with. "We need to round them up," you tell them, as the people scatter, and with the now six guards' help, you corral most of the remainder. Eyes peer around corners. Skulking figures hide in your periphery.
The white cat watches.
You go through the crowd remainder, testing each by each. You separate out the infected, and the ones you cannot tell, and the guards stay with them, keeping each group together. You see the fear in their eyes.
You turn to the uninfected, a small group of a dozen or so. Further off, skulkers hang about. Too many eyes watch you from the buildings, from the shuttered windows, from the dark shadows. The other two groups watch as well. You haven't told them which is which.
You're stuck. These few people before you, who still have their souls, are the most precious thing of all, but you can't get them out without the infected getting out as well. You can't kill the infected first without it spreading. You draw your sword.
The uninfected draw away fearfully, pleading. "No," someone says. Others beg you not to, insist they are fine. Among them is the boy with the cold, staring at you, not saying anything. You remember his 'nks, and look at him sadly.
Your guards take the other two groups back, giving space. They have an idea what you're doing. They understand. These souls, at least, might be saved.
It's quick, efficient, as you kill them all, dancing around them with your sword. They try to run. They cower. One man tries to hit you from behind. But they all fall before you, even the boy.
The other groups watch uncertainly. They shy back, avert their eyes. A few watch sadly, curiously, delightedly. The guards keep them put, and shoot a man who tries to get away. Somehow, they hold themselves steady.
You go to the maybes next. They stare at you fearfully. "It was just them, right?" a woman asks. "We're okay."
"I don't know," you tell her. "I can't take the risk."
You take these out too, killing them all, swiftly, exactingly, your blade a scalpel in a wound. The guards back away, allowing you space, not even bothering to help when a few flee in opposite directions. It doesn't matter. They don't get away. Some of them death nova. Some of them don't.
The last group watches triumphantly, and look relieved as you approach them after, the other three guards now going to them as well.
"Can we go now?" someone asks. "You did the infected, and the ones who might have been. But now we're all okay. Right?" The others agree, hopeful, happy.
The guards stand their ground, keep them put.
"No," you say.
They stare at you, uncomprehending. They try to run.
You kill them, too.
It's just you and the guards, now, six still standing, all infected. They know what they are. They know what they've lost. They stand before you, in terror and pride, knowing that there is nothing left for them. And you are proud, too. Proud of them, proud to have stood by them, and to have had them stand by you.
"Thank you," you tell them. "You are the bravest men I have ever known." They bow their heads, and you hug them, and they hug you. They give their names, and each washes over you like an avalanche, hitting home. They tell you the seventh, who already fell.
You look to them all in heartbreak, and tell them, "The gods will remember you."
As you take their lives, each by each, you whisper their names.
You're alone, now. The town is still, empty, and yet at all the edges full of too much motion. It skitters away at your approach, hiding behind walls. Goes still at your glance.
You make your way up the hill. The motion follows in the margins, scooting between buildings, around corners, stalking, watching. Fog follows too in foggy tendrils, licking at the ground, at the edges of the motion.
They come out as you reach the square, trickling in from all sides, surrounding you as the fog thickens into a damp cocoon. The remaining infected, lost to all sanity. And others, too. Ones you've already killed. Ones who had disappeared. Corpses, wreathed in black. You hold up your sword and let out a pulse of light, raw radiant power that fills the square, pushing back against the fog, lighting it up.
It doesn't work. The corpses keep coming. The infected keep coming. They come at you as a mob, but unlike the mob before, these fight you, unfeelingly, unrelentingly, more and more piling on from all sides, all at once.
You fight them off, but you are only so fast, can do only so much. It is too much, too many, and you back away, clearing the path in a whirlwind of metal that never seems quite enough. They pull at you, claw at you, bite and stab, and as they break through your defence by sheer persistence, you feel every prick weaken you a little more.
Your back hits something hard, solid. A wall. Your clothes and armour are slippery with blood. Your sword is oddly heavy. But there are fewer, now, all in front of you, visible, almost manageable. You knock them back, cutting down a few who get too close, keeping the rest at bay, and then jump back into middle of the lot, spinning and slashing, death incarnate.
Trickles of red and black paint the fog. The ground is a mirror, deep and dark. The bodies fall softly, like ashes, like smoke, and you dance away, in control, in the heart...
It's over. Done. You're alone again, last one standing, covered in blood. Only some of it is your own, but it all stings the same, the smell sweet and thick and everywhere. Again the bodies are piled up, covering the ground, vague lumps, unmoving. The edges of your vision are tinged with black. It's too late, now. It was too late when you came. You sway, and plant your feet, bracing yourself on your sword.
You hear it behind you, low and deep, full of promise, menace. Thump.
The town is still, hidden. Not even crows disturb the silence.
Thuthump.
Thuthump.
Thuthump.
You turn, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if you have the strength for anything more. This has taken everything you have already, and yet...
Thuthump.
The temple is a large stone building, tall and straight, set apart from the rest, above the rest. It looms overhead, unyielding, uncertain. You can feel it, the shape of the thing, pressing in your mind.
Thuthump.
Inside.
You're inside. You don't remember entering. The smell is iron and musk. You're in the aisle, between the pews. The pews. The pews are full of people, bodies, corpses staring with empty eyes, white eyes, missing eyes. Their forms are shrouded in black, layered, hinted at. A layer beneath the skin, over the eyes. The eyes turn to watch you. You step forward, but they do not move, following.
Your head hurts. You're tired, exhausted. Your mind strains against the inconsistencies, trying to see, trying to understand. The white cat, standing at your feet, hisses, arching its back, but it's not hissing at you. It's hissing at the statue, at the priestess, at the statue.
You try to look at it, but you can't. Your head is an agony, the pressure intolerable. The heartbeat is everywhere, all around you, part of you, no longer audible.
The statue is vibrating, dancing. Fighting. No. The priestess is fighting. Dancing, vibrating. Mirrors. It isn't moving. No. It isn't... the priestess is standing still, waiting, watching. Something is there. Something bigger, pressing in, behind, trying to enter.
You feel the eyes, all around. You feel nothing. You're alone, entirely alone, and yet you shouldn't be.
The voice reverberates through your skull, all around, inside. Welcome, it says. We have been waiting for you. It is horrible. It is beyond horrible. It is sweet and vast and bright. It is darkness in its purest form. It makes you want to claw your skin off and dance, dance, dance, screaming, into the void.
You fight it. You resist.
You can feel it pressing at you, prying at you, peeling back your defences one by one by one.
"Join us," the priestess says. An echo. A thunder. A normal voice. "You're tired. Rest."
You drop to your knees in front of her. Your sword has long since fallen from your hand. Around you, behind you, you hear movement. People rising. Corpses. Moving. Hearts beating. You're losing yourself, like a trickle, driftingly.
She reaches out a hand to you, beckoning, smiling. Her form flickers, vibrating, in unison with the breaking of the statue.
"Never," you whisper. You can barely move, but you draw a knife from your boot, fighting for every inch, your arms trembling, and brace your head with your hand as you bury the blade in the side of your skull.
There's a sound like wings, and tearing. Then nothing.


Coraline awakens in utter terror, breathing hard, almost sobbing. Only after a moment does she remember where she is, and who she is.
She's sitting on the ground, tied, against a tree, but for once not to it. She isn't gagged, either. Vardaman is squatting in front of her, a hand held to her heart. Like she had done in the dream.
VARDAMAN
Nightmare?
Coraline whimpers, scrunching up against the tree, looking away.
VARDAMAN
(withdrawing the hand.)
You're getting worse.
CORALINE
No...
VARDAMAN
Tell me what you saw.
CORALINE
It's just a nightmare. Just a dream.
VARDAMAN
What about?
Coraline looks at him and then starts laughing, a maniacal half-sobbing.
Vardaman frowns. When she doesn't stop, he replaces the gag, re-stuffing the cloth in her mouth, muffling, but not cutting off, the laughter.


INT. Grey Lobby
It's Agata who finally drags Coraline into the Grey Lobby, climbs onto her knees, and stares at her intently until Coraline starts responding somewhat more normally.
AGATA
Hi.
CORALINE
Hi...
AGATA
How are you?
CORALINE
I'm fine. Peachy. Great!
AGATA
Great. Stop acting like you've had a psychotic break.
CORALINE
But...
AGATA
Seriously.
Agata hops down and pads away into the various bits of furniture.
CORALINE
Fuck.
Coraline gets up slowly, peering about unhappily.
Agata hops onto a sofa behind her.
AGATA
Say after me. "I'm normal, sane, and perfectly fine."
CORALINE
(turning)
Eh?
AGATA
Say it. "I'm."
CORALINE
I'm...
AGATA
"Normal."
CORALINE
Dammit, cat!
AGATA
Are you or are you not?
CORALINE
I'm really not. Any of those. Bloody damn.
AGATA
Then stop moping.
CORALINE
(loudly)
I'm not moping!
Agata and Coraline stare at each other for a bit.
BOY IN GREEN
(leaning over one of the sofas)
Am I interrupting something?
AGATA
She's just moping because she had a bad dream.
CORALINE
I'm not moping!
BOY IN GREEN
Then what are you doing?
CORALINE
...moping.
Well, no. I'm angry. I'm angry because I'm terrified. I shouldn't be terrified. It was just a dream. A dream. Doesn't mean what you think.
BOY IN GREEN
Sometimes dreams mean a lot, or nothing at all. Or teach! Dreams teach.
(gesturing to the Lobby)
This is a dream, you know. The Eternal communicates with his other Voices in dreams, too.
CORALINE
This doesn't scare me. This isn't an ending.
BOY IN GREEN
What scared you?
CORALINE
What?
BOY IN GREEN
In your dream. What scared you?
There's a long silence.
CORALINE
All of it.
I was a Deathdealer. I was strong. I was merciless. And yet what I was up against, I couldn't do anything to stop it. I failed at every turn, and in the end...
Coraline just stops, staring off into space.
BOY IN GREEN
You're afraid you'll fail in this life, too.
CORALINE
What I'm up against, it's big. Huge. Like the thing in my dream, it can't be faced. All the strength in the worlds can't defeat nothing, and yet that's what I have to do. I'm in over my head, and I know it, but I try not to let it scare me. I try to be brave, and keep going, because the alternative is certain failure. But I'll still probably fail. I'll run out of time. I'll run out of options. And that'll be it. Game over. No more lives.
(quietly)
I couldn't do anything as a Deathdealer. How can I possibly do anything as myself?
BOY IN GREEN
By being very, very surprising.
(casting)
Lightning!
He throws a blast of lighting at Coraline. Coraline throws up a ward in the same moment, blocking it.
The boy in green smiles, and then shoves a hand in Coraline's direction. Her ward flickers out as she's knocked backwards.
CORALINE
(casting back from the floor)
Hold.
The boy in green puts up his own ward, blocking the effect.
CORALINE
Full sleep shadow hold!
This punches through the ward, hitting the boy in green square on, and he falls over, paralysed.
Coraline gets up and comes over, and swipes with her hand over the boy in green. He immediately jumps up again, grinning.
Coraline smiles as well.
BOY IN GREEN
Yes, yes, yes! That exactly.
Red blue skin.
He flings the spell at Coraline, and she turns purple.
CORALINE
What the...

The regret

EXT. Soravian foothills - day
Vardaman and Coraline get higher into the foothills, gaining altitude slowly as they head west, always west, almost parallel to the mountains themselves. The trees and rocks grow thicker.
They continue through the nights, only stopping to feed and water Coraline. Vardaman gives up on making Coraline walk and just carries her outright, holding her in front of him like a pile of logs, her legs now also bound. Coraline no longer fights, just waiting, practicing, making sure she can breathe. Agata is curled up on top of her.
Spirits, like the faint, featureless silhouettes of little children made only of cold mist, watch forlornly from the rocks as they pass. Indistinct heads turn to follow, but they do not otherwise move.
Coraline watches them vaguely for a bit before it occurs to her that they're a bit odd, and she hasn't actually seen them before.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
What are they?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Ghost spirits... nobody knows. It doesn't help that very few people can see them.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Can people see the other things? The housemites and the ghostlights and ash demons and all the weird shadows and... things? I always just assumed they were normal, and nobody paid heed because they were just part of life...
AGATA
(mind voice)
No.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Can Vardaman?
AGATA
(mind voice)
I don't think so. I think it's mostly... witches. Mediums. Necromancers. Those who can see the dead, and speak with them.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Are they dead?
AGATA
(mind voice)
It's the same magic. All things, all power, has a spirit. A ghost that remains behind after. If you were good, you might even see a trail behind you, echoing your struggle with the Deathdealer, showing every step and motion. The words, the pain. The hope. The fear.
He's very afraid, though he won't show it. He is not certain of his decision, and as you grow weaker, he reconsiders more. You're getting bony, Names.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Funny. So it's like souls? Those are dead people spirits... like all of these?
AGATA
(mind voice)
I think... yes. And no. Souls are the same thing, but more powerful, and unless you do something to stop it, they leave the world quickly when their owner dies. But there's more than that. The soul goes, but a spirit remains regardless. Memories, patterns...
Your soul is not here, and yet you are still you. Your spirit remains, full of fight. Sisu.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
Sisu. Right. I'm not sure that applies anymore.
AGATA
(mind voice)
The things you see, they're spirits. When you use the Dead Voice, you speak to their spirits, through all their loneliness, and fear. And they love you for it.
Or I could be making all this up. Who knows.
They continue on, Vardaman walking quickly, each step deliberate, flowing into the next. The ghost spirits watch, rooted to the ground, their vague shapes of heads following.
Agata purrs.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I wish I could talk to them.
AGATA
Deathdealer.
VARDAMAN
What?
AGATA
Can we stop for a moment?
VARDAMAN
Why?
AGATA
The spirits. Do you see them?
Vardaman doesn't respond, doesn't slow.
AGATA
Let us talk to them. They're lonely.
VARDAMAN
Do you take me for an idiot?
AGATA
Yes.
(mind voice)
Worth a try.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
He can't even see them. How could he possibly trust us?
Can you use the Dead Voice?
AGATA
(mind voice)
Probably.
Agata proceeds to just sit there.


INT. Grey Lobby
The boy in green is flying, hovering about two metres up, with indistinct shapes of what might be wings traced out in light from his back.
BOY IN GREEN
Wheee...?
He stops mid-whee, looking around uncertainly. He's still just hovering, in place. He tries flapping his arms a bit. Nothing happens.
CORALINE
Hi.
The boy in green falls out of the air, his wing shapes disappearing all at once. He pops up a moment later leaning over a sofa.
BOY IN GREEN
Hey. So.
(shaping out the spell)
sleep hold full.
Coraline starts to put up a ward, but then just stops mid-cast, letting it hit her. She topples to the ground.
Agata wanders off and goes to sniff at a random MAN IN BLACK elsewhere in the Lobby.
MAN IN BLACK
Hey kitty.
He pets her a bit.
Agata hops onto the man's lap and curls up, accepting further pets and scratches.
For a bit, nothing happens. Coraline tries to cast through the paralysis. A nearby armchair catches fire.
The boy in green looks disappointed, and dismisses the spell.
Coraline gets up and smacks out the fire.
CORALINE
I think I still need more practice. Is there any way we can... I dunno, only tie me up partly or something?
BOY IN GREEN
Do it using only the words. Words only. Only words.
CORALINE
(crossing her arms)
Right.
break empty wind.
Her dress flutters around her, as if caught by a slight breeze.
CORALINE
It's like I'm farting. What the hell is this language, anyway?
BOY IN GREEN
This?
CORALINE
For the spells. All the incantations are in this weird choppy language I can't quite place.
BOY IN GREEN
Oh! Um. Dunno. It just is, you know?
CORALINE
Not really... nevermind.
If I'm not actually restrained, how do I even know if it's working? If it's the right spell, the right shape?
BOY IN GREEN
Looks like it's working. Here.
Come.
A rope appears in his hands.
BOY IN GREEN
I'll just tie you up, okay?
Coraline shrugs, and he proceeds to tie her arms really badly, including a rather taut rope across her neck.
CORALINE
You know, if we were really here, I'd be a bit worried about this job you're doing...
BOY IN GREEN
(backing off)
Yeah yeah, go on cast it.
CORALINE
Empty wind.
The knots unravel and the rope slides off.
BOY IN GREEN
See? Now if we can get rid of the other words too...


EXT. Soravian foothills - night
Real life is just more of the same. It's utterly miserable. Vardaman is carrying Coraline, not stopping, not saying anything.
Coraline is too tired to sleep, too sore. In her mind, she repeats the mantra, going over the words each by each, as the world goes by in a stark mingle of rocks and trees and softly glowing spirits drifting about in warbles. The ghost spirits, at least, are mostly past, only one or two solitary ones standing in place as they pass from time to time.
She slips back into the Grey Lobby, not even noticing what she's doing.


INT. Grey lobby
It's empty, now. Grey and empty. The sofas beckon like long-lost friends. Even the floor looks welcoming.
Coraline collapses into one, a poofy length of not quite velvet, and it embraces her in fuzz. But she cannot sleep. She closes her eyes. She stares out into the space, not really seeing. She scrunches up, burying her face in its poof.
She doesn't even have the strength to cry.
The Voice is standing over her.
VOICE OF KYRULE
There is no sleep here. This is not the world of the living.
CORALINE
I'm so tired.
VOICE OF KYRULE
Carriers who have progressed far enough often cannot sleep either, though your sleep deprivation appears much more mundane.
And yet you also did not seem to need sleep when you carried the god shard...
CORALINE
(mumbling)
...in my sock...
VOICE OF KYRULE
It reacted differently to you. Even beyond your being a Carrier, there was something more.
CORALINE
Just kill me...
VOICE OF KYRULE
Later, perhaps. You have a long way yet to go.
CORALINE
Agata... Agata... please...


EXT. Soravian foothills - night
AGATA
(mind voice)
It's okay.
Agata licks Coraline's chin.
Coraline whimpers.
AGATA
(mind voice)
You need to sleep.
CORALINE
(mind voice)
I want to.
Agata licks Coraline's face some more, her rough tongue scratching at the mingled dirt and tears of too many days bound up.
AGATA
(low and rough, like a purr)
Sleeeeeep.
Coraline falls into blackness.
The Dream only comes later, drifting out of the deeps and covering the darkness in its own, full and warm.
You dream of Life, and Home.
You're back. You never left. You had your one day out with the God of Death, but then you turned him down. After he laid everything out and asked, you told him, "I'm sorry, I can't just give up my life like that." And Sherandris smiled, and said, "I understand completely. Thank you for considering it."
And now you're home, in your apartment, sitting at your table, going through your mail. Things are ordinary, sane, far from simple. You need a proper job. You need to start your life. You need to say goodbye.
You regret, vaguely, your decision. The god's request had been for her, after all. Your distant friend, your dear half-adopted sister of sorts. But it had been too much, for not even a certain thing. For only a chance.
So you go back to your work. Applications, applications, follow up, and applications. Days pass into weeks. Your odd job in the interim tides you over, and you mix drinks and pour vodka. Mostly you pour vodka. Your customers chatter and laugh, acting almost like swedes. Your friends come by, and also act like swedes. You chide them in swedish. They laugh, and make questionable jokes, and then you're all hurling around memes, caught up in the moment.
A customer is staring at you expectantly, trying to avoid being too obvious, trying to avoid actually looking at you, and you cough and hurry over. He orders in two words. You pour and pass it over, processing his card, and say nothing. It's simple. Effective. Finnish.
And life goes on. Somehow, against all expectation, this works too. The skills of a librarian apply behind the bar as you organise, catalogue, dispense. Curt phrases suffice for all negotiation. It comes as a total shock when one morning, opening your mail, you find an invitation letter. Thank you for your interest. Let's talk. You realise it's english, and thus perhaps not as promising as it initially sounds, but you follow up. You talk. You negotiate rates and starting times and benefits.
You're giving notice. You're packing. You're saying goodbyes, and staring at your coffee in the sudden horror of realisation. England. They drink tea there. You're screwed.
Your bags are shipped. You get off at the airport. An hour to a bigger airport, and then a few more to London, and Anna, whose basement you'll be staying in at least for the time being. Anna texts you excitedly, telling you not to crash and die. You tell her that only happens sometimes, and you wouldn't get that lucky. You're more likely to crash and burn really badly and then somehow not die. She tells you everyone will love you here, and she really wants to be there to see what the library makes of you when they actually meet you in person. You tell her you'll wait to dress up like a pirate until later.
When you finally get there, get your stuff, and spill out into the main airport, Anna is standing there with a 2m length of PVC pipe in hand, holding it like a wizard's staff.
"What's with the pipe?" you ask.
"Thought it'd be funny," she says, and leads you out.
Moving in is hectic, but as the packages arrive by post, and the furniture and other items are dropped off all at once, Anna brings in all her local friends to help, and everything gets assembled in totally the wrong rooms. The bed is in the kitchen, and covered in chairs. The table is in the bedroom, half embedded in a sofa. There are two desks, which is one too many.
Along with all the boxes, none of it quite fits. You all use the boxes for chairs, have curry, and chatter and plan.
The others go. It's three in the morning. Anna is staring at the fridge, eating ice cream, considering. "Well, you've got the important things, at least," she tells you.
You nudge some chairs out of the way and collapse on the bed. "Wake me when the world ends," you mumble.
"I'll strike a compromise and wake you when you run out of ice cream," Anna says. "How's that sound?"
You don't answer. You're reasonably sure you're already asleep.
The first day, you wake up with a cat on your head. The second, you wake up with two cats curled up next to you. Of three, only two are Anna's.
The new city is strange and exciting. The people are different. You start your job and nothing horrible happens. Anna shows you around, introducing you to things, concepts, people. She takes you to a bar, and says, "This is a pub. People talk to people here."
"I know," you tell her. "I used to work in one."
You go in. You have an awkward conversation with the bartender. Later, you return, and have less awkward conversations, too.
Days turn to weeks. Weeks turn to months. You collect books and shop for food and are surprised, sometimes, by the same same, but different. Slowly, you settle in to this strange new place, this strange new life. You make friends, find gaming groups, meet Petr.
You hit it off slowly, taking two years to finally get around to a proper date, just hanging out in the meantime, throwing jokes across the gaming table, reliving the highlights in every reference. The time Petr Silenced the big bad before it could launch into a monologue. Your incident with the pickaxe, in which your negative strength cleric critted with it six times in a single night after randomly picking it up as a joke. The octopus tearing up the basement, nothing even left to loot.
You mention the octopus the most. It becomes your call sign, your in-joke. "Octopus," one of you says, and it's all giggles from there. You don't even know why, anymore. It's just funny.
One day Petr runs into you at the bus station. This is not unusual.
"Octopus," he says. "Go out with me."
And you do. Together, you make adventures out of toothpicks, go to Wikimedia meetups, and watch through series upon series of television, gaming all the way. When your characters hit epic levels, you dress up and go to the grocery. People whisper behind you, and you laugh, delighting in it.
You marry. You dress as cultists and have a little ceremony in the courthouse, and invite everyone over for octopus after. The octopus turns out to be the cake, almost a metre tall, rising up off the table like a lovecraftian horror, painted in terrible colours.
The congratulations are many and confused as everyone gathers around, loitering, smiling, talking, eyeing the octopus. Nobody wants to cut it. Nobody wants to destroy it. Nobody is even sure what it is, really, so finally you pull out a sword and assault it directly.
The others stand back and watch.
The remains, after, are sad, but distinctly cake-piece-like.
"Avast!" you announce, waving your sword at it. Crumbs and bits of frosting fly off.
Petr rolls his eyes and hands some people plates. They begin to serve themselves, digging in. You giggle, and he hugs you, trying to avoid the frosting-covered sword. "It stood no chance," he tells you.
"Nothing does," you reply. You're very certain, though you don't know why. Nothing will ever stop you.
The years pass quickly. You grow older together, take on new positions, make new friends. You make a baby together, bringing it into the world amidst considerable confusion, utterly unclear what to do with it, treating it like a kitten, because for some reason it even squeaks like a kitten. At some point, you stop referring to it as 'it', and start calling her Katia. "You will do better in this life than your namesake, dear Katia," you tell her as she finally begins to understand words, and their function. "But I hope you still have her sisu."
And then you make another one, just for the hell of it. Petr names this one before you can even weigh in, like he was afraid what you might come up with, but you don't mind. It's still yours. Sam. Sam is still yours.
Katia squeaks indignantly.
The world goes on around you. Politics happen. Regimes change, Wikimedians worry, librarians chatter. Demographics shift. Rotherham. Cameroon. Firewall. Names take on new meanings. Progressiveness becomes... something else. Words become dangerous.
Words are your life.
You're in your office, a bigger one, all to yourself, in another library. The desk is covered in paperwork, and you resign yourself to it, going through each piece not even really paying attention. You won't finish it all. Not any time soon. And there will be ore...
There's a picture of the kids in the middle of it all, half buried in a stack of requisition forms next to a potted fern. Katia, now five, peers at you from under the fronds. Sam is totally buried.
Something nags at the back of your mind, an old ache, a half regret. Life goes on.
Anna is at the doorway, hanging off the frame, holding your coat, looking expectant. "We're gonna get some lunch," she says.
"Can't," you tell her. "Need to deal with all this. Terrible, is what it is. Can't even get to the reincarnation forms until I've requisitioned the paper to print them out on. This stuff is dependency hell."
"Really?" Anna says. "I'm sure the dead will wait. Put in the orders and let's go."
She has that look about her, and you realise it's hopeless. She'll just drag you if you don't come willingly. Forcibly. She's considerably bigger than you, after all. "We're on the first floor," you point out. "I could escape out the window."
"Ah," she says, "but if you do that, you won't be working anyway. Come on."
"Lunch winds up at a place. A television with news on is on the far wall, something about terrorism and an embassy being blown up, and controversy, and you try to ignore it. People had been saying journalism was a dying profession, but they had gotten it all wrong. It wasn't dying, but evolving into something far more dangerous.
Petr joins you a moment later. "It's not as bad as it looks," he tells you.
"What?" you say.
"Huh?" he says.
Life goes on, and on, and on. The world goes mad around you, and yet for the most part, nothing really changes. Tones, perhaps. Tensions. Fear. Joblessness abounds, but for now, it's only around you, and in the library, you do what you can. You make it a haven where people can escape, or search, or learn. It's all a part of living, now.
And then one day it all changes. Petr is trying to fix his hair for a meeting and keeps popping in and out of the bathroom. Sam is hanging off the stairs trying to hit Katia with a metrestick, and you're yelling at the both of them to stop being you and eat their breakfast already. This is all normal. Everything is the same as ever. Except it's not. It's not the same at all.
Petr pops out again, announces it's hopeless, and then just stops when he sees your face.
"We live in Austria," you say. "This is Austria all over again."
"What are you talking about?" he asks.
You shake your head. You don't know. The whole world feels like an impending cave-in, except nothing new has really happened. The news isn't odd, but more of the same. Free speech crumbling, replaced by protections. The wars spreading, with more refugees incoming. More no-go 'dark' zones established. Jobs disappearing, taxes increasing.
China's leadership changed again. Russia annexed Finland. Taiwan recognised as a sovereign state, while India and Pakistan make peace. Things are backwards. Turkey invades Syria, moving south with ponderous certainty as the Islamic State spreads in every other direction, just as certainly. Czechia attacks Slovenia. Tanzania attacks Kenya, and loses badly. Mexico attacks itself. Venezuela becomes the handbook. Seemingly unrelated incidents compound and multiply, and nowhere escapes the madness.
You know what started it, but you tell noone. First, because you talked to noone who would listen. Now because there are no safe channels remaining to even speak on such things, and the laws on hate speech are absolute, zero tolerance... as long as the subjects are non-white. Even Tor is known to be unsecure, though it's better than nothing, though you now direct all library traffic through it. All the libraries are. They've become an oasis, in the madness. Free knowledge, backed by free software, never directly opposing the narratives, but always hinting, suggesting people read further. Underpaid radicals, the lot of you, just doing your jobs.
But something has shifted. You confiscate the metrestick and shoo the kids back to the kitchen. Austria, even once they had realised their mistake, could not escape until the war ended. But here, now, people were realising. The mailing list traffic, though subtle, was showing more and more progress. Small victories. Books as a weapon.
The world is at war, and you're in the middle of it, fighting in your own way. It will only get worse, before it gets better.
It gets worse. The libraries are closed. Wikimedia is declared a hate movement, free knowledge equated with foreign propaganda. Memes are made illegal, and so multiply exponentially, showing up everywhere, in advertising, on the street, painted on walls, posted as signs, referenced unknowingly in speeches. It is a revolution in green, and you, too, revolt. The libraries revolt. The Wikimedians and teachers and shitposters revolt as imageboards become a mainstay, even as they are constantly taken down, only to pop up under a new name, a new url, full of memes.
You reopen the library. Petr is with you, along with four other librarians. The kids are with Anna. A small crowd gathers around as you march up and unlock the doors, and announce, "We are open, and full of books."
Police are there too, keeping back the crowd, but also allowing you space. "You shouldn't be doing this," one of them says. "It's supposed to be closed."
"Then stop us," you say. "Stop all these children from reading their books. Stop these adults from seeing the worlds. This is a library. It's only dangerous to those who oppose people.
"This isn't what you signed up for," you add. "You signed on to keep the peace, to protect the people. So help me. Protect them, ensure this place remains open to them." You could have worded it better, you know. You could have said more. But it's enough, because you're right, and they know you're right. They help. They protect. They keep it open.
People trickle in, some afraid, others eager. You keep it open, through the day, through the night, and your police go against orders. In light of all the other chaos, the protesting, the rioting, the muggings and rapes and murders of the dark zones, this small, quiet defiance goes unchallenged, and your officers, your protectors, ensure it remains quiet.
The other librarians join you. And then other libraries reopen, too, all around as the idea takes root. Quiet resistance. Somewhere peaceful people can go while outside, the madness and horror mounts.
You move in entirely, and then the schools move in as well, living out of the library, guarding it, making it alive. Everyone chips in, teachers, refugees, even students, maintaining and defending, keeping the peace outside. Anna comes, too, bringing Katia and Sam. You hug them fearfully as Katia blathers excitedly about octopuses. Anna laughs and hands you a tumble of pages, drawn and inked and painted. They are all octopuses.
"Octopus," Petr helpfully points out.
"I know, you doofus," you say.
"Dofus," Sam says.
"Pues sí," you reply.
"You know that show's supposed to be French, right?" Petr says.
"Quel est ton pont?" you ask.
He winces.
Something's happening outside, more than usual, loud and angry. People are tumbling in, while several of the librarians, new and old - for they're all librarians now - push past, out into it. You move to join them, but Petr gestures for you to stay, going instead. "I'll check it out," he says. "Guard the library, my Librarian."
"But..." you say. But he's already moved out, and Katia's stuck to your arm like a limpet. You raise her up as she clings. "Oh no," you moan. "I've broken out in cats."
Katia meows.
"It's later. You're with the kids - many kids, yours and others, reading them a story about sentient poop. Even some of the older ones are there, their faces painted in disbelief that the topic was as literal as the book's title had suggested. You go through the pages, trying not to hurry, trying to put on the good show - because it's a book that deserves a good show - acting out every line, articulations and sound effects and voices and pauses. Big, pregnant, expectant pauses.
Except something's wrong, and you know it. How long has it been? You don't know. Where is Petr? Where are the others? One of the other librarians is by the door, waiting for you to finish, smiling vaguely at the vary flagrant jokes as the kids laugh uproariously. He isn't one of the originals, instead a refugee, first from somewhere in Morocco, more recently from somewhere in East London, but now he's one of yours, same as all the rest.
You finish. The sound effects continue, and the laughter continues, as you get up and sidle through the kids, trying to keep your cool. The older ones, and the less distracted ones, still catch on that something's off, but your calm reassures them.
"What's wrong?" you ask him as you head back out into the alien space that the main library has become.
"We're staging a rescue," he replies. He doesn't need to explain what for.
Tents and sleeping bags are everywhere. The computers are packed, mostly with teenagers, but that's less unusual. Folks are all around, lounging about reading, talking, eating. You weave your way through it, and meet a small throng of armed librarians. They hand you sticks. You grab a megaphone as well, and charge out into the riot outside.
It's utter chaos. The din is cacophonous, full of explosions, fire and gunfire, and bludgeonings, and tramplings. People are yelling, screaming. You yell into your megaphones, blaring out demands to disperse, or at least get out of your way. Some people do. Others don't. You push your way through, surrounded by your cohort, yelling the fray into submission, and in some cases, hitting. A few get lost, but you continue on.
The police are there too, doing much the same, though they have armour and shields. Somehow, together, it works. People disperse, quiet down, stop attacking. The streets are strewn with wreckage, and bodies. Storefronts and buildings are trashed. Some are on fire. Cars are trashed, and some of these, too, are on fire. You unclump. You tend to the wounded, check the dead. Now, in the calm, the smell stands out. Burnt. Dead. Rotting. Your city in ruins. People in ruins.
Petr. You're not sure how long you've been standing there, staring. He's there. He's dead. On the ground, broken, dirty, bloody. It's him. It isn't. You're not responding properly. You're not responding at all. What are you doing? You look around. The stillness is eerie. The quiet hanging like anvils. Voices babble in the distance as people coordinate in the mess.
You turn away. Go inside. Retreat to food. Cake. Octopus. You're drawing swirls in the frosting, adding suction cups. Octopus. Octopus.
Octopus.
Others were lost, too. Names you knew well, and names not so much. There's no time to grieve. The world is still falling to pieces, and you're still too busy keeping an oasis of sanity in the middle of it. Food is a concern. Supplies. Getting enough gets harder, and then getting them at all becomes difficult. People coordinate, reach out. For everyone lost, you fight that much harder. You declare your stance openly, defying the orders that have taken over. You are not racists, or nazis, or freedom fighters. You're librarians. You're open knowledge. You're normal people, and at this point, normal people have just about had it with the whole mad world. Somehow, it becomes a revolution. Somehow you're in the middle of it, spurring it on. Your library. Thousands of libraries.
It's messy. It's bloody. You lose more, and more, and more. Somewhere along the way, you've lost feeling. But you, and everyone else around you, everyone behind you, you know it needs to end. The chaos needs to end. Your children look on in fear, uncertain where their next meal will come from, uncertain if you'll still be there the next day. Or they will.
And then it ends. All at once, it ends. The war is won by military victories by Australia and Canada, and the world leaders, what's even left of them at this point, all just stop. Treaties are signed. Governments turn over. Trials are put on. For some reason you're at the UN making a speech, and you don't even know what you're saying, or why. You just want to sleep. All you want is sleep.
It takes months to pick up the pieces of your lives, years to relearn how to live. Nobody argues when you take leave to look after Katia and Sam directly in a new house, a real one. For some reason it's labelled as a pension. The laughter is gone. There's an emptiness, a hole. A void. Ripples in the world. This isn't real. Your family is broken, but you go on with your lives, growing older, remembering, learning, talking, but never with enthusiasm. The schools have changed. The politics are all different, now, as one form of racism is replaced with only another. It's always the same, and you see it now, because it's still people at the heart of it all. People never learn.
Katia draws octopuses and covers the walls, piece by piece, building up into a mosaic covering two floors. You look at them in passing over days, weeks, months, until it's done, and then you see it. You try to hold back the tears even as you choke on the grief welling up inside you, too huge to bear as the final image stands out: one great octopus, holding all of you in its tentacles, together.
You don't talk about it. You don't talk about what happened, in your family. You were all too close to it, and there's nothing left to say. And then, as the kids grow up and go to university and beyond, they do. They talk in their classes. They talk to their friends. They challenge the narratives that sprung up in the world war's wake, no more right than what had come before. They share their stories at conferences and events, and then you do, too, taking up organisation once more, reminding the world just what happened, to make sure people never forget. Not this time. Not again.
You know, though, that they will. They always forget. Even with the pictures, the videos, the archives, people always forget. But that's why you keep fighting, keep telling your story, to put it off a little longer. To do something. So you speak.
People listen. They listen to the librarian who started it all, who held her ground and inspired so many others, and you remind them it wasn't just you. That there were many. That it was them, too. That it will always be them.
But somehow you've become the face of it all, the keynote that, suddenly, everyone wants to hear. The knight. The guardian.
Somewhere, in the midst of it all, something niggles in the back of your mind. Something is missing. What about her? Whatever happened to her?
Life goes on. The world moves on, but you remain the lady librarian. Your life is a whirlwind of travel and talk, opening and addressing, speaking out before councils and governments, slipping into your grandchildren's birthday parties. You are a legend, but they only know you as the granny who always shows up with the cake.
Every cake is shaped like an octopus.
You grow old. You grow old. The bottoms of your trousers...
The wind is in your hair, and you feel it playing with your curls, making wisps, as you look out over the city, laid out before you in all directions. You're standing on a rooftop, and other people are here, too, but they don't matter. Fragments of conversations wash over you as you remember everything that brought you to this point. The battles fought, the people lost, the friends and family found and built. A lifetime. An instant. None of it was right.
The wind is cold, pushing and pulling, but the sun is warm.
You hear a girl behind you. "But mom, mom!" she says. "That gramma is standing right on the edge."
Idly, you look to see who it is, but you don't notice anyone on the edge.
You look down, and see the city below, the buildings, the street. Pedestrians moving like dots.
"That gramma's going to kill herself!" the girl says. And it's true. The grandma is you. You step off lightly, slipping at the precipice, and falling, down, down, down.
I chose this, you think to yourself.
I chose this.
The ground rushes to meet you, full of rough texture, bigger than anything.
I...
You're elsewhere. Dark. Grey. Bright. You're in blue, seated on a sofa, holding a coffee. Sherandris is seated across from you, purple, strange, deliberate. The God of Death, just a guy, unassuming. Around you is nothing. The idea of a room, etched out of nothing. Infinite space. Nothing.
...didn't choose this.
"No," Sherandris says. "You didn't."
"Sherandris?" you ask. Nothing makes sense. Everything makes sense. You're dead, you know, but you're... not. You didn't choose that. That wasn't your life. What was...
"Am I dead?" you finally finish your question. "Am I really here?"
"In a manner," he says. "You're dreaming."
"But this is you," you say.
"Yes," he says.
"And I chose..." you start to say, but then you're not even sure. You don't know.
"You chose to go. You chose to give up your life, your home, everything you were, for a chance that it might help."
"And then what happened?" you ask.
"You left," he says. "You came out somewhere else, and the Dark Sister closed the hole behind you. After that, I do not know, though I am pleased to see you are still... somewhere."
"You don't know?" you ask, surprised.
"The soul here is that of you dream," he says. "You aren't here, but so long as the dream persists, we may use this as a means to speak."
You stare at him. You don't know what to say. You have so much you need to say, so much you want to ask. "Octopus," you say.
"Yes," he says. There is a profound sadness about him. You don't know how you never noticed this before. "Are you safe?" he asks.
"No," you tell him. You don't want to admit it, tell him you screwed up, failed so utterly. "I think," you say, your voice quivering in the black, "I think I might not survive at all."
"Tell me," he says.
You tell him. You tell him about your arrival and the months alone, spent looking for even anything, anything at all, before you finally came to civilisation, only to find it primitive and superstitious. You tell him about the Death of Souls, and how it seems unstoppable, how even the local gods have no idea. You tell him you feel yourself fading, and yet you don't know what to do. You tell him about Vardaman, and the sheer stupidity of your current situation, and about Kyrule and the weirdness with his Keepers. He chuckles at your wording, but grows only more concerned as you lay it all out.
Finally, he says, "You were asked the impossible. And now you're faced with even more, too much for anyone to support."
"But I have to," you say.
"Yes," he agrees. "I'm sorry."
You sit in silence. It feels like an eternity, simple, calming, comforting, but also doesn't. Just a moment.
"I wish I could help you," Sherandris says. "I wish I could sweep in and rescue you like a big damn hero and make it all right." He pauses, vaguely, and you can just picture it: a swirl of ridiculous colour, badgers everywhere, and pastries, like a whirlwind of glittering sugar pulling the damsel in distress out of the... lake? You're not sure why it's a lake. You're not sure why the damsel looks like Samuel L. Jackson in a frilly dress, and is holding a bazooka. You're not sure why Sherandris, in your picture, is dressed entirely in ducks.
"Sorry," he says. "Dreams are fun."
You giggle.
"You have what is there," Sherandris goes on. "Even if the local gods do not know what to do, how to fix this, that doesn't mean they won't be able to help. Kyrule will make a valuable ally, so stick with him. Azorres has helped you even without reason to, and his followers hold no grudges, so keep bouncing ideas off them. But look elsewhere, too. Gods can be wrong, miss things, even the obvious. Especially the obvious. Look past their grudges. Remember the commonplace, that which is most often missed."
"The commonplace?" you ask.
"This is your soul, your life," he says. "You are the one living it. You know what you feel, so pay attention. If something helps, try to find out why, even the littlest things. Sometimes there's..."
The dream cuts out abruptly.




(heaps: heapheap2heap3)
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This/Survivors song/Part 7

This/Survivors song/Part 8

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