Out on a Limb – 3.z


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Last Thursday: SunnyDay Logs

Rain pattered against the windshield, and the wipers, set to go every few seconds, produced an audible squeak with each pass.

Zed was glad that Raymond was following behind in his own car.  He could glance back in the rear view mirror, and see his teacher in the gleaming black car, the driver shadowy and indistinct.  It meant that the car was just him and Brie.

Considering the length of the roadtrip, the choice of traveling companions was key.  She was wearing a red shirt and white pants, her raincoat draped over one knee, her bag at her feet.  The snacks they’d been eating sat on the dashboard.

“A song for your supper,” Brie sang.  She had a good singing voice.

“A morsel for your melody,” Zed answered.  “Do we have to?  I’ve said I memorized it.”

“We don’t have to,” Brie said.

The windshield wipers squeaked.

“I’m nervous,” she said.

“I don’t blame you,” he said.  “But you may be one of the safest people here, by the rules.”

“I’m nervous for your sake.  And for the other participants.  About a lot of things.”

“Yeah,” Zed said.

He’d been expecting a town to pop up, now that they were close.  They traveled down two-lane roads that crossed flat ground, barely a hill in sight.  Trees, roads, sometimes side roads that were just wet dirt, and the occasional barn.  It was so flat and boring it was hypnotic.

There’d barely been any cars on the road at all.  He’d seen more wildlife crossing the road than he’d seen fellow travelers.

They’d played through Zed’s tapes, and Brie had played some of her favorite music.  They’d turned music off and talked about themselves.  Family.  Struggling with the hands the universe had dealt them.  They’d gone over the song, more for Brie’s sake than for Zed’s.

A child ran out into the road.

Zed hit the brakes, steering hard.  The station wagon fishtailed, and he steered into it.

There was the lightest of thumps as the kid practically ran into the side of the car.  Zed controlled the continuing skid, staying on the road, and got gentler as they coasted forward.

Brie was gripping the armrest of the chair and the hand-grip above the door, feet firmly planted.

They were in control again.  Zed glanced back and saw that Raymond was doing fine.  The kid was nowhere to be seen.

“I guess we’re here,” Brie said.

“Yeah,” Zed answered.  His mouth was suddenly dry.  He took a drink of his Berried in Cream soda, eyes scanning the road for other errant children.

“This is it,” Brie said, checking her phone.

Zed slowed.

The only thing left of the town was an intersection.  The buildings, if there had even been that many, were gone.  A few stones were erected by the side of the road.  Like gravestones, but for a town.

Brie touched Zed’s arm.

At the far end of the road, a cluster of children blocked off parts of the intersection.  Going straight would mean plowing through the group.  Turning right would mean the same.

Zed took their cue and turned left.

There were other turns. Left.  Left.  Left.  Right.  Left.

With each turn, there were a few more buildings visible.

“Ah, so this is what we’re doing,” Zed murmured, trying to make sure he didn’t run over any of the phantom kids.

“What is?”

“It’s-” Zed turned again, passing onto a road with leafless trees lining either side of it.  “A cleanup job.”

“Who cleaned up what?”

“People like me or Ray or those three girls you met, cleaning up a mess left behind by something like them.  Those singing children.  Or goblins, or whatever.  Sometimes they spin a story.  Sometimes they rewrite the existing story.  Like how your family thought you’d never had feet, but couldn’t explain why you didn’t own a wheelchair.”

“And now that I’m whole again, they can’t remember my injuries.”

“These places can be havens for Others.  I’ve got a few places Ray makes me visit and check out.  Totally different stories than this kind of place, y’know, but people like me, we check them out, do sweeps.  Make sure no problems come up again.  I bet someone’s job is to come through here once every few months or something.”

“Any chance they’ll show up?”

“Pretty slim,” Zed said.

They passed beneath the trees.  Into the town center of an 1800s town.  Quaint wooden buildings, a church, a lot of it centered around a field central to the town, now overgrown to the point the grasses and weeds had overtaken part of the road.  There had been stalls or something that were now long fallen to pieces and blown into the road by the wind.  At one corner of the field, a massive tent had been turned into something spectral- the central mast that had held up the tent was still mostly upright, the fabric worn by weather and by time, now so stiff that it didn’t move in the wind.  Like it had calcified.

It wasn’t empty.  There were children here and there, who had found seats on tree branches and rooftops, or who just stood or sat by the road.  A bunch of cars had driven through the overgrown field, flattening the grass and weeds, and people had exited.  Fences, netting, and other things were being pulled together.

“Did you do this kind of prep before?” Zed asked.

Brie nodded.  “I’ll help out, if that’s okay.”

“Okay.  But I’ll need you to brief my guys.”

Brie nodded.

They pulled over to a stop, not that far from the participants who were preparing.  They didn’t get out of the car.

“Four,” Brie said.  She made a face.


“Four people here, doing prep.  That’s bad.  It means we’ve got at least four more newbies who might be getting dragged in, who might not have checked the websites or learned the particulars.”

“Alright,” Zed said.  “There can be more than eight participants?”

“I don’t think so.  But some of the people helping here might be friends or family of the participants.”

“Got it,” Zed said.

Brie climbed out of the car.  Zed checked himself in the mirror.  It was hard not to feel self-conscious sometimes.

People were reacting to Brie’s presence.  Zed popped his door open just to hear, while running his hand through his hair.

He grabbed a thing of licorice and climbed out.

“-the winner.  Why would you come back?” a man asked, animated.  “You got a friend into it?”

“A friend, yes, but he’s help, not a participant,” she said.  “They’re people who are looking into this.  Who-”

“Don’t say too much,” Zed said.

There were kids close enough to be in earshot.

“-they’re here to help,” she finished.  “I can help too.  Where do you want the fences?”

“Here, the field,” a very heavy man said.  He had a thick beard and a shaved head.

“How is it?” asked a kid, maybe fifteen, who was wearing a modified hockey mask, a cloth cover covering the bottom edge of the mask, nose, and mouth.  The flesh of his face had clearly been badly scarred, even from what was visible at the eyeholes and at the edges of the mask.  Some of the flesh at the top of his head was scarred.  “Is the reward really like they say it is?  Is it good?”

“It’s not good,” Brie said.  “I needed it, I think.  It’s necessary for me.  But… you lose as much as you get. Or more.”

The kid sagged a bit. “It’s not that strong?  It doesn’t fix everything?”

“It’s stronger than we were led to believe,” Brie said.  “It fixed everything.”

“Then I really don’t get it,” the kid said.

“Where do you want this part of the fence?  It looks like a connector piece.”

“It braces the corner,” the heavy man said.

Brie started to set it in place.  One of the silent other two began working with her, holding it while she connected the left side, then connecting the right side while she held it.

She’d described types like those two.  How the entire setup process was often silent, like people were getting into the habit of not being able to talk while the ritual was underway.  Or because the emotions were so heavy in the air.

Zed went to his car and began unloading.  They would have taken a faster way, but faster could be complicated.  Different devices and items had their own wavelengths.  Whatever method they used to travel could upset sensitivities.  That was the problem with ‘technomancy’.  The practice was sometimes said to be about patterns, but it was really about the human patterns, or the patterns and how they related to humans.  So while technology was very good at repetition and setting patterns into motion, the human component was often fleeting.

Ray was out of his car.  The driver was gone.  The man was tall, with a long head, and he wore crimson-tinted visor sunglasses that were all one piece, with just the notch cut out for the nose, even though it was late evening.  It was maybe the last wholly intact vestige of his ‘rad’ former self.  His long hair was slicked back close to his scalp, only really getting wavy and ‘free’ at the point where it was past his chin.  It was graying at the temples.  He had a full beard, a black turtleneck, and a black business coat, all styled to frame a very slim build.  His jeans were a modern, slim-fit style, and his shoes appeared to be laceless.

Zed looked over at Brie, who glanced back at him, smiling.

Zed had dipped into the darker aesthetic as well, like Ray had.  Black tee, black leather jacket, jeans, hair slicked back in a very different way than Ray had.  Some might have said it was a 50s style, but it was timeless, as far as Zed was concerned.  Ever since the tee and jeans had been put together, they’d looked good, and a leather jacket on anyone young and fit could not fail to be cool.

Brie liked the look, he was pretty sure.  And he liked it.

The children were everywhere.  They probably didn’t like anything, except the idea of eating them all alive.

“I don’t think we could have a worse arena than this,” Ray said.

“It’s not under our control,” Zed said.  “Yet.”

“It’s wet, it’s overgrown, and there isn’t an outlet in sight.”

“Did you bring the generator?” Zed asked.

“I did,” Ray said.

“Then we have two.  Those are our ‘outlets’ then.”

“If we waited then we could be better situated, no?”

“The deal was I’d try this tonight.  The people who gave me the information made it clear they wanted this under control.”

“You couldn’t have pushed harder for a slight delay?”

“I don’t know that it would matter.  It’s almost always ghost towns.”

“Or Kennet,” Raymond said.  “That place has electricity.”

“The ritual’s skipping Kennet and Nicolette thinks it’s going to keep doing it.  It could be months before it returns there, if it does.”


“If you’re bothered, I won’t mind if you want to bring the others here and then leave.”

“How could I do something like that?” Ray asked.  He gave Zed a tight smile.  “You’re my favorite apprentice.”

“I’m touched.  Is this the moment where you tell me your other students are only students and family, and I’m your only true apprentice?”

“I’ve had four apprentices.  You’re the only one of the three remaining who isn’t exhausting to be around.”

“You’re so asocial.”

“I spent myself of most of my ‘social’ in my younger days.”

“Peace, love, beauty, honesty, and fun?  Flower power?”

“I’m not quite that old, Zed.”

Zed laughed.

“While we’re on the topic of love…” Raymond said, raising one eyebrow above the red sunglasses.  He turned his head slightly toward Brie.

The question was implied, not asked.

“I’ve gotten attached to her.”

“Too attached?  You’ve assumed responsibility for her.  She’s aware but not awakened.  Now, I haven’t seen much of her…”

Raymond trailed off.

He did that a lot.  Zed was used to it, but he knew it drove some people crazy, as they waited for the man to finish his thoughts.  He didn’t do that, though.  He expected anyone keeping up with him to finish his thoughts for him and prove they were paying attention.

“She’s good, Raymond.  She’s competent.”

“She’s anxious.  She hesitates first and acts second.”

Raymond had followed the station wagon in his BMW.  They’d stopped for meals here and there, and Raymond had gotten to know Brie a bit.  A lot of Zed’s focus had been on bridging the gap between Ray, who could be mistaken for a slab of ice, and Brie, who was sometimes driven by anxiety.

That bridging of the gap wasn’t something that would happen at three rest stops.  For the time being, finding ways to bring out the warmth in Raymond, with playful jokes and reminiscing, and finding common-ground subjects for Brie and Raymond to talk about, even if it was the Choir, would be enough.  The rest of the work could be done later.  If tonight wasn’t a disaster.

“She survived eight nights of the Devouring Song.  Yes, she got a few helping hands to pull her up from the depths, mine included, but… you don’t survive eight nights of that if you’re weak.”

“I’m getting my things from the car,” Raymond said, turning, his the bottom end of his coat lifting up with the wind and the swiftness of the turn.  “I’d like help setting up.”

“Okay,” Zed answered.  Internally, he was calculating.  Raymond aborting a conversation wasn’t unusual, especially in recent years.  But Zed had to puzzle out why, and in the here and now, he found himself reaching, going over the conversation.  What had triggered Raymond shutting down like that?

‘Helping hands to pull her up from the depths.’

Raymond was thinking of darker times.  When he’d reached down to pull his son Hector up.  His hand had been slapped away.  Raymond had never forgiven Hector for that, lending a kind of sadness to his earlier comment about favorite apprentices.  Hector, for his part, hadn’t forgiven Raymond, either.

Stubbornness ran in that family.

Zed unloaded.  The scratch-a-sketch, with bright yellow plastic around a gray screen.  Walkie talkies.  A music player he could clip to his belt.  Tapes.  Headphones.  Power glove.  A radio with voices in the static.  A polaroid camera with blood in the creases.

A lot of devices and ‘found’ items tended to be… problematic.  When an Other got into an item, it tended to be frustrated or angry, or else a predator lying in wait, or a conniving thing trying to use the device as a vector to hurt people.

These items, from the scratch-a-sketch to the polaroid camera, were ones Zed had tended to.  Curses removed, Others managed or pulled out, bound, and put back in again.  In cases where those Others had been ones who preyed on fear or negativity, the items unfortunately became things that couldn’t recharge or sustain themselves.

He’d given up some things he prized and cared about to get the information they were using tonight.  In the fighting, if he used some of these things, he would be spending resources.  There was a part of him that was analytical about it, looking at this in the sense of power and status.  That part of him saw it as a big gamble, hoping he would gain something that was greater than what he spent.

There were other parts of him that looked at it from different angles.  The good Samaritan, that wanted to stop something ugly from getting more people.  The researcher, who wanted to figure this whole thing out.  The…

Zed floundered for a way of putting the idea to words.

The son?  That felt like a slap in the face to Hector, and Zed had always liked Hector.

In any event, He wanted to do right by Raymond.  The guy was a mess, and there were times he was borderline abusive, but he was also the first person who had really backed Zed up when he needed it.  If tonight went badly, if Zed didn’t come out the other end okay… Raymond would lose it, probably.  It would probably even go the way it had with Hector.  A decline so slow that people who were in contact with Raymond on a near-daily basis, like Alexander, wouldn’t notice the incremental changes.  So subtle that the people who were distant, like his other two apprentices, wouldn’t be able to put it to words.

Before Hector, Rad Ray Sunshine had been bright, effusive, happy, unflappable.  But the parent had buried his child and buried a good-sized part of himself with him.

That almost-son, that scholar, that good Samaritan, that accountant, the boyfriend… they needed tonight to be a win.

He had to recognize that, weighing it.  Because there were other things in his car.  Things that hadn’t been as thoroughly cleaned as the first stuff he’d picked up.  Things that would hurt the user as well as whatever they were pointed at.  Things that would take from him or add in their own small percentage chances that this could all go south, in exchange for the clout they promised or the doors they opened.

Part of the deal he’d made with Raymond a few years back was that he’d see a therapist.  He was pulling on that therapy now, trying to recognize where he stood, and the nature of the decision he was making.  With all those different facets of him so eager to do well today, it would be easy to overdo it, and tap into stuff that would cost too much to use, in risk, or power, or Self.

He left that stuff in the car, and prayed he wouldn’t need it.

He almost reached back in to grab the toy gun.  Then he made himself stop.  The toy gun wasn’t technomancy, but he’d come across it while doing a job for a friend of Raymond’s, and hadn’t found a way to get rid of it.  It could hit a car and make the vehicle roll over several times, but it came with steep drawbacks.  As far as Zed had worked it out, pulling that trigger meant months of coincidentally finding oneself in gunfights, while also being something of a magnet for stray bullets and ricochets.  All six of the last people to use it had been shot a few weeks or months later.  Only two of the six had survived past the six month mark.

Zed was pretty sure he’d figured out the quirks in a way that would let him use the thing, but… pretty sure wasn’t totally sure.

He closed the trunk, then brushed dust off the car.  The enchantments he’d laid into the vehicle meant that the more pristine he kept it, the easier it was to keep it pristine.  Given time and power and attention, that could make it bulletproof.  It would be a while before it got to that point again.

He sorted out his stuff, pulled on the power glove, and fixed his jacket, unzipping it at the sleeve so he’d have access to the controls.

He used his Sight to scan the area.  The world drawn out in neon lasers with soft curves, all of them pulsing with intensity that raced from one end of each laser to the other.  He’d trained his Sight to see into things, so he could decipher how certain things were put together, and find wires inside walls.

Raymond had picked the most intact abandoned building to set up in.  The patter of rain was leaking in through a large hole in the roof, but the other three quarters of the old building were more or less dry.

Tubes mounted on stands were projecting lasers.  Ray nudged the stands to get the projected images to line up.  Points of light were created where lasers lined up, creating a three-dimensional diagram.

“Lasers?  You used to be cool, man.  You used to have style.”

“I’m still cool,” Raymond said.  “I have style.”

“Didn’t say you weren’t,” Zed answered.  “Still…”

“Still,” Raymond spoke absently.  He nudged one stand.  “These lasers are forty years old.  Some of those ‘retro’ devices you carry are half as old as these.”

Zed sniffed.

He could hear inarticulate singing, murmured.  He turned, and saw children in the doorway.  A little girl with pigtails and a pink dress.  A boy all dressed in black, with hair in that matte black that only came with bad dye, not natural colors.

They sang in unison, venturing into the room.  One reached for the laser projector.

“They’re interfering.”

“Slowing us down.  Keep them at bay?  I’ll rush it.”

Zed grabbed the pigtail girl’s wrist.  She pulled back.  The boy with the black clothing stepped in, mouth opening, showing off teeth that were broken, cracks running through them, gums bleeding.  He aimed for Zed’s thigh.

Zed gave the boy’s chin a tap with his knee, making those broken teeth clack together.  “Speed it up?”

“I am,” Raymond said.  The generator roared to life, jerking like something inside had moved.  A beast struggling against the confines of its cage.

One of the laser projectors flared, like a long, slow camera flash.  The one beside it did the same, picking up where it left off.

They went off in a circle, the flashes speeding up.  When the blinding light was there most of the time and the glimpses of the room were the thing that was momentary, there began to be imperceptible changes.  Shadows of furniture that wasn’t there, images of another room.  People.

Brie had said the kids were strong.  They didn’t seem any stronger than ordinary nine to twelve year olds.  Zed kept them from getting their mitts or teeth on anything as the room lit up.

The room interior was no longer the dusty, ruined old building from two hundred years ago.  It was a place in, presumably, Thunder Bay.  Someone’s apartment or loft.  The lights continued, but the people were here.  The image of that distant place began to wind down, but the cluster of people remained; silhouettes with only slices of their faces or bodies revealed by the way the light hit them.

The kids pulled away, running off.

One of the main roles of technology was that it made the world small.  Communciation, travel, culture, all were drawn in together, lines blurred.  The more one got into technomancy, the more they tended to touch on that reality.

There were ways to use practice to go places.  Trips into the Spirit World, emerging elsewhere in the world, if one’s spirit was strong enough to make the trip swift.  Trips through the Warrens, if one could hold their nose and endure the danger.  Shamans could commune with the spirits of places.  But each of those were- they could be capricious.  The spirit of a destination city could change as the culture of that city shifted.  A traveler could be waylaid while using another realm as a road to get somewhere.

Technomancy was reliable, but it had its own demands and difficulties.

“What’s the saying?” Zed asked.  “Fragile, weak, or fleeting, pick two?”

“That’s what I taught you.  Technomancy will be two of those three, but whichever it isn’t will be worth it.”

“Which is this one?”

“It’s fragile, it’s fleeting… but it’s damn effective.”

The lights stopped.  Zed could see spots against his vision.

“Zoe,” Chase said.

“It’s Zed now,” Zed told the guy, thumb and finger pressed against his eyelids, rubbing.  “It has been for a year and a half, you know that.  Don’t make me punch you.”

A hand touched his shoulder, and he felt a kiss at his cheek.  He mimed a kiss, then turned his head, kissing her other cheek while she kissed his.

“Hi Nicolette,” Zed said.

“You look great,” she said.  “Glove aside.”

“The power glove?  It’s dorky technomancer style, honey,” Zed told her.

“It’s been too long,” Eloise said.

“Yep.  Thanks for coming,” Zed said, blinking.

Everyone was here.  Jessica had deep brown skin, narrow eyes, thin lips, and upswept cheekbones.  Her raincoat was heavy duty, yellow, but rare in how much abuse it had taken.  The yellow was cracked, and the cracks were almost a style of their own, and the shoulders of the coat had been battered down to meet the shape of her narrow shoulders.

Ulysse’s hair was still damp from having walked without umbrella or coat in the rain.  His hair was blond, but thick and wavy enough that the locks seemed to end up pointing in nearly any direction, like curls, but in twists bigger and longer around than a finger.  When dry, it would maintain roughly the same shape.  The rest of him wasn’t decorated- he wore a tight-fitting sleeveless tee, jeans, and sandals.  He carried nothing, and had nothing in his pockets.  Not even an engagement ring at his finger.  He put out a hand, and Zed clasped it.

There had been a time years ago when Zed had had the biggest crush on Ulysse.  That had faded, weirdly enough, when Zed had left ‘Zoe’ and so many of the things he associated with Zoe behind.

Amine was with Ulysse.  They were Durocher’s apprentices, and a bystander couldn’t be blamed if they thought Amine had been given the task of carrying all the stuff.  Amine had long, dark brown hair, braided, and wore what seemed to be a winter coat with the lining removed for the summer heat.  There were a lot of inner pockets.  Many were stuffed with papers, to the point that some stuck out around the front edges of his coat.  He offered only a nod, and Zed returned the same.  They weren’t friends, exactly, but they helped each other out.

Eloise was the last in their immediate crew.  She wore the engagement ring.  Pretty, blonde, and creepy.  She had her familiar with her.  A black centipede as long as her arm, wound around her arm.  Its head was buried in a cluster of multi-layered fungus.  It lifted that head to peer at Zed with one eye the fungus didn’t touch.

“Hi, Eloise.  Hello Schartzmugel.”

“Hello, Zed,” Eloise curtsied, lifting up the corners of her floral print skirt.  She had a bag with her, slung over one shoulder.

Mr. Belanger had come, as had Ms. Durocher.  They were already over talking to Ray.  Mr. Belanger gave off the image, Zed felt, of a smarmy entrepreneur.  A smart, ultra-modern suit, light brown hair in a ponytail, chin shaved, nice shoes.  Nicolette and Chase picked up on bits and pieces from him, dressing business casual, even for the night of a hostile ritual on a Saturday evening.  Chase was rounded off in face and belly, forgettable.  Meanwhile, Nicolette had a lot of details about her person that demanded attention – a tumble of black hair down one side of her head an ornament hooked around her ear on the other side that bristled with flowers and feathers, bold horn-rimmed glasses, more feathers at one pocket, and the metallic caps of pens at another, the arms of each pen hooked over the pocket’s edge.

Ms. Durocher was of a height with Ray, but seemed taller because the height was in defiance of so much else about her appearance, and it was unusual in a woman.  She was underweight, with a smile that couldn’t help but seem insecure or uneven, and her bangs that didn’t fit with her relatively fine, thin hair, draping across her forehead in an uneven curtain.  She wore a black top with a red jacket, and a rather blocky necklace of fossils and glassy stones framed the divide between jacket and top, somehow picking up both the black and the red.  Her skirt came to calf length.

“Who’s on point, Ray?” Ms. Durocher asked.

“Zed is, if that’s alright, Zed?”

Zed nodded.  “I brought an acquaintance.  She’ll walk us through some of this.  I can walk you through the rest.”

They had to leave the building.  Zed checked the time.  They had lots, but this thing was tied into time, with its schedule, and it messed with time, according to the website.  It would not be the strangest thing if it pulled a fast one on them, just to catch them off guard.

He waved down Brie, then walked up to meet her partway, as she circled the field.  They met, stood together, and faced the group that had trailed behind.  Brie turned and put her hand up, to tell the others to hold back.

“I want to do this by the book,” Zed told them.  “Binding one-oh-one.  Identify what you’re binding.  You guys probably know the general details.  It’s a living ritual with a wide reach, operating on a schedule tied to the lunar phases.  It sucks up eight people at a time, drags them here if they don’t come here themselves, then makes them engage in a contest.  They sing while fighting a seemingly randomly selected ‘meal’, and every missed line or word gets punished.  It has to be unarmed, and it has to be completed before the song ends.  Eighth nights are different, but tonight isn’t an eighth night.  Up until now, we’ve been in the dark about where it came from and where it draws this power from.”

“You figured it out,” Nicolette said.

“Someone else did,” Zed said.  “They passed it on.  The queen at the center of this particular hive is a black dog.  It’s derived from an incarnation of famine or something, took the form of a young girl in the middle of the war in Afghanistan, and made its way here, through some ties to Canadian soldiers or bystanders.  She was killed, and the way Black Dogs work, they punish the people that kill them with curses.  Most of the time they come back again and again.  She was put down for good.  The curse was a big one, it was stored away, and it manifested as the Hungry Choir ritual.”

“We surmised this was manufactured,” Mr. Belanger said.

“That may be the case.  In any event, we need protection and security while we call her out and bind her.  She’s rooted to a huge power source, and that, to my understanding, makes her rough to deal with.”

“If her origin is Incarnation related,” Alexander said, “she’s going to have power like that.  Incarnation related others tend to have something inevitable about them.”

“We’ve worked out a way,” Zed said.  “We think.  If it doesn’t work, we eject, try again on the next night of the ritual.  The plan-”

There were children in the grass.  They stared at Zed with blank eyes.

“-I’ve talked to the key people about the plan.  But yes.  We’ve definitely accounted for the incarnation aspect.  We’re using it, and hopefully we can make this snake choke on its own tail.”

“Good,” Alexander said.  “I’ve nothing to add, then.”

“We’ll use her own rules against her.  In the meantime, Chase?  Once we call her out, can you make sure we can keep tabs on her?  If she takes a human form, she may run or hide.”

Chase nodded.

“Nicolette.  Foil her if she comes for us, if you can?  Keep us on task, and keep an eye on the immediate vicinity?”

“I’ll try.”

“You too, Eloise.  Deflect, distract.”

Eloise nodded.  Her centipede had become a tattoo, encircling one bicep, disappearing under her clothes, and forming a coil around her neck.  Less disconcerting, if only barely, for the civilians at the other end of that field.

“Amine, Ulysse?  Ms. Durocher, if it’s no problem?  Protect us?”

Three confirmations.


“What do you need?” she asked.

“Perimeter?  And warding our immediate vicinity?  Ray and I are doing some of it, but if you could keep outside interference at bay, and layer our defenses?  The closest realm to the Devouring Song is the Ruins, and that’s your specialty.”


“Brie?” Zed asked.

“I can go over what to expect,” Brie said.  “Did everyone memorize the lyrics?  Even if we aren’t participating, I think it’s important as a just-in-case.  The- I know people who were almost pulled into the ritual.  It’s nasty like that.  I want any one of us to be prepared.”

Most people who attended Blue Heron were good at memorization.

“There’s going to be an animal or multiple animals on the battlefield.  They might not act like normal animals of their kind…”

Brie went over everything.  It took fifteen minutes.

Beyond the fifteen minute briefing, preparations took another half an hour.  Zed picked up the polaroid and took pictures.  As each image resolved, it showed shadows against the wall.  Some of the brickwork bled, but the rain quickly washed away that blood.  He turned on the radio and turned it up just enough that the voices in the static began to appear, but not so much it would alarm the participants.

The floodlights were erected, to illuminate their battlefield.  Everything that needed plugging in was plugged into generators.

He handed out the walkie-talkies.

“You guys were using these when you came to get me in the Ruins,” Jessica said.  She was drawing out a circle.  Essential things had already been gathered within.

“They work anywhere.”

She nodded.

“Hey,” Nicolette said, joining the conversation by sidling up to Zed, her shoulder touching his.  She seemed happy, in the midst of all of this.  Her best self.  She looked in the direction of Brie, who was dealing with the four participants.  “What’s up with you and her?  Are you a pair?”

Jessica snorted, then bailed from the conversation.

“…I don’t know.”

“Do you want to be?”

Zed nodded.

“That’s so cool.  I’m so glad for you.”

“Thank you,” Zed said.

“She seems nervous.”

“A lot of trauma, tied to this whole thing.”

“Yeah.  That’s understandable.”

Ms. Durocher was standing off to one side, talking to Ray and Mr. Belanger.  Her apprentices didn’t stray too far from her.  Jessica went to get more stuff for drawing lines on the ground in chalk.

The participants looked pretty weirded out by it all, but they were already aware.  They’d seen too much.  The kid who’d had his face eaten off.  The heavyset guy with the gnarly hand.  The two silent ones.

“You glossed over Kennet in the briefing.  It’s sorta central to the Devouring Song, isn’t it?” Nicolette asked.

Zed nodded, without answering.

“Or should I call it the Hungry Choir?” she asked.

That was their name for it.

“I’d love to have a conversation about that, but I can’t,” Nicolette said.

“Neither can I.”

Sworn to silence.

“I’m looking forward to summer school for once.”  Nicolette smiled as she said it.

“Me too,” Zed agreed.  “New crop of students.”


They were on the same page.  Similar oaths.  Similar awareness.

The rain started to come down harder.  There was a rumble of thunder off on the horizon.

“This is a kind of agony, waiting,” Nicolette said.

“It is,” Zed said.  “Sorry I’m not making good conversation.  I’m thinking.”

“Think away.  I’ll leave you be.  Chase probably wants to grumble at me.”

“Tell me if he does.  I’ve been wanting to punch him for years.”

“You’re not allowed, remember?”

Zed smiled.

After Nicolette left, Brie approached.

“Less than five minutes,” she said.

Zed nodded.

“Fuck.  I was hoping other participants would find their way into this hidden town.”


Nicolette was right.  The passage of time was agony.  It was like waiting for a war to start.  Or being in an airplane, knowing that you’d be parachuting out the moment you were over your target.  This would go from 0 to 100 in seconds.

Zed exhaled slowly.

“You don’t have to be the tough guy all the time.  You can say if you’re worried or scared,” Brie said.

Zed shook his head.  Water ran down his face.  He’d figured he would get wet anyway, and had shucked off his leather jacket.  Might as well get comfortable with it all now.

She gave him a rub on the arm.  Her hand was warm.

“Are we a couple?” he asked.

“I was going to ask if you and Nicolette were a thing.”

Zed snorted.


“She’s one of my favorite people.  But we’d be like oil and water.”

“I’d like to be,” Brie said.  “A couple.  But I wouldn’t want to intrude, or assume.  I wondered if I was the damsel in distress of the month, and if you’d be moving on, or going back to an existing relationship.  The-”

He touched her chin, turning her face, then kissed her.  Her lips were warm too, in the rain.  He could taste the sweets she’d had in the car.

“Be safe,” she said, the moment the kiss was broken.

“You too.  You’ve got the licorice I gave you?”

She patted a pocket, and pulled one strand out, holding it in a fist like it was a knife.

Ray stood, starting to walk over.

Zed whistled, to get people’s attention.

“I’ll go organize them,” Brie said.

Zed nodded.  He bent down for his bag of stuff, and pulled out the scratch-a-sketch.

The practitioners joined him at one side of the field.  Brie and the participants formed a group of five at the end of the field closer to the collapsed circus tent.

Zed touched the scratch-a-sketch to the ground.  The diagram he’d pre-set into it began to spill out, in jagged black lines.  It unfolded, encircling them, reached the bounds of the diagram that Jessica had put down, then began to elaborate, strengthening.  It was important to do as they crossed the threshold, because what they wanted was to keep that threshold open.

The moon shuddered, then flickered.  The sky’s texture changed, the pattern of the rain coming down bleeding out to become the sky itself.

The sky turned totally black.  Starless, without rain or cloud.

The rain around them fell, hit the ground with a final splash, and ceased utterly.

There had been maybe fifty of the Devouring Song kids scattered around the clearing.

As the world around them changed, the sliver of moon getting more and more agitated, the number of kids increased.  Hundreds of children, in various clothes, ranging from the stylized to the old fashioned to the shabby.

“By the accords of Solomon!” Zed called out.  “By the order of man, I summon you to audience!  Obey or cede this territory!  Black Dog Yalda, come!”

Every single child present turned their heads.

Some of the children had been dragging someone over to the other group.  They stopped, letting go.  The person, scraped bloody, got to their feet and scrambled away.  Brie whistled, and they joined her group.

The children stared.

“I ask a second time!  Black Dog Yalda!  Casualty of war and child of Famine!  Come!”

There were others.  They were supposed to be bystanders, but there weren’t any near here.  Witnesses, men and women with no faces, only toothy maws with darkness instead of mouths and throats.  They rose to a standing position from within clusters of children.

“For the third time, with your worth and power at stake!  Black Dog Yalda!”

Ms. Durocher shifted her footing.  If this girl didn’t show up and the information about her identity was true, then Ms. Durocher would be the one who’d start hammering at the very substance of this ritual.  Yalda’s authority over this space and the ritual would be weakened and open to exploitation.


The crowd of children parted.

One child amid hundreds.  Black haired, with light brown skin, wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with a thunderbolt in sequins, a glossy black jacket, and a black knee-length skirt.  Her feet were bare, mud squishing between her toes as she walked across the field.  Her eyes shone and shuddered like the moon did as she opened them wide, before she partially closed them.

Step one in a by-the-books binding was identifying one’s foe.  Everything else flowed from that.  Their very nature could be countered, combated, surrounded.  Weaknesses could be exploited, and strengths could be taken out of the picture.

“Do you surrender and agree to be bound?  We can end this here,” Raymond asked.

The little girl’s expression twisted into something between disgust and rage.

Her lips moved.

Not an answer, but the beginnings of song.

Slowly, the children picked up the song, all joining together.  The ones who were closest were quieter and indistinct.  The ones who were further away were louder, but the distance stole away the exact words.

Five hundred high voices.

Children advanced, touching and pressing against the invisible wall that extended up from the circle that Jessica had drawn out.

Jessica held out a string with a wooden owl figurine on the end.  The string was fraying visibly.  She held up another, this one with a frog.  Same thing, but slower.  “Both wards are getting chewed up.  Outside barrier is going fast.  She’s bringing in help.”

“Durocher,” Ray said.

The thin, tall woman stepped forward. She put her hand out, but stopped short of crossing the barrier they’d erected when drawing the circle.

She began making noises, guttural, growling, each one something Zed could imagine would be painful to make, disjointed.  Her eyes opened wider, and she spoke that guttural, painful language with a violence that made spit fleck and froth at the corners of her mouth, the sounds coming faster and faster.

Ulysse bowed his head, knelt, and then stood, drawing a scepter out of the earth.  It glowed like it had been sitting in fire.

Ms. Durocher screamed, and it was as violent and raw a sound as everything else she’d strung together.  Zed heard the glass case of his music player at his hip cracking.

Something halfway across the field detonated. Two of the more ramshackle buildings  on either side of the field tumbled to the ground.

A fissure, with plumes of dust spreading skyward.  In the midst of it was something that defied easy classification.  It looked like a particularly ghastly tree that could be mistaken for a massive wild animal in the wrong light, but it moved.  Like how a crocodile could be mistaken for a log, or a mangy dog with matted fur could look like fungus was growing on it.  Animal, but no one animal in particular.  If it was just predator, it was a bit of everything that made every predator in existence special, from face shape to frame to the patterns that ran along it.  If it was just scavenger, it was everything from the face of a hyena to the flayed head of a vulture to something insect, all blended together- and that would be only the head.  The dust hid most of it.

When it unfolded, moved, and attacked, it did so with joints moving the wrong way, it rose up until it looked like it had reached its full height, then surged, shifting, in a way that suggested only one part of a greater whole had emerged, like the hand with a whole arm following.  A tongue that looked like it had been dragged through dirt until it was scabbed and raw reached out and dragged forty or so children into a fanged hole in its center.

It screamed, in that same language Ms. Durocher had spoken, and she leaned forward, eyes closed, fingernails digging into the skin of her throat and collarbone, a rictus grin on her face.  Amine supported her to keep her standing.

“Eloise!” Nicolette called out.  “Help!”

Children pressed against the barrier, some climbing over one another to climb higher, as if the invisible wall had an upper limit.  One of the witnesses with its fanged toothy mouth was pounding on the barrier.

Jessica’s barrier failed.  That was fine.  It was really only there to buy that extra time.  It was more worrying that the barrier beyond was going.

Zed’s scratch-a-sketch barrier was holding, at least.

He turned on his music player, then turned up the voices in the static.  The Black Dog Yalda was out there, but-

Zed looked at Chase, and Chase was looking the same direction as Eloise and Nicolette.

Behind them and off to the side.

The children parted, supported.  They moved in unison, like they were one singular entity, with a thousand sets of arms to lift, push, and help one of their number surge forward.

The black centipede ripped its way out of Eloise’s arm.  It swayed, like a snake charmer’s snake, and her arm moved with it.  Like she was tearing at something invisible.

The children stopped coordinating.  Hands grabbed at Yalda’s ankle, and she tumbled, disappearing into the jumble.

“I can’t- this is hard,” Eloise said.

“She’s strong.  We were warned about that,” Alexander said.  He touched Chase’s shoulder.  “Keep close tabs on her.”

Chase nodded.

Alexander joined his subtle power to Eloise’s.  She disturbed the connection between Yalda and her servants.  Alexander exuded shadows that flowed out, passing easily through the barrier, disappearing into and merging with the stark shadows that the children themselves cast, in the light of the floodlights.

When the children failed to coordinate, now, they were tearing each other apart.  One slipped in the mud that fifty shoes had churned up and drove another one’s face into a stone beneath the soil.

But none of the children died.  Even the ones that Ms. Durocher’s creation was clawing at were getting back up.

They were drowning, and the water they were drowning in was getting to be higher and higher a pressure.  The singing itself, hundreds of voices- more than hundreds, now.  A possible thousand, now that they were coming in from the edges of town.

“Schartzmugel’s spent,” Eloise said.  “I’m spent too.  I can’t-”

There was a sudden violence, like Alexander’s efforts were still in effect, but it was coordinated again, child hurting child in their efforts to move, but moving as a whole.

Yalda was thrust forward, into the barrier.  Her hands braced against the invisible wall.

Ulysse stepped into the way, glowing mace held out, ready to intercept the moment the barrier fell.  Amine pulled a paper out of his jacket.

Jessica was already drawing a backup diagram, big enough for one person.

“Let me,” Ray said.  “Please.”

“Let him,” Zed said, even though he didn’t know what Ray was asking for.  He only knew that he trusted Ray just about as much as he trusted anyone.

Flickering eyes like silver stared down at them from a mountain of scratched up, battered, bloody waifs, an obese man with a toothy mouth instead of a face and a scrawny woman with the same flanking her.

“The diagram,” Alexander said.


Zed looked around, then down.

The diagram under their feet shifted, as the pressure came in from outside.  Taking on a new shape.  Words that overlapped, flickering.

He’d seen something similar on the flyer.

The static from the radio was distorting, mimicking the singing.  The music from the music player with the cracked case from Durocher’s screams was slowed down, stretching out in an agonizing way, that kept time with the children’s singing.

“Don’t speak, only sing!  Play by the rules, we’ll find a way!” Zed called out.

The barrier twisted, then ceased to be theirs.  It had contorted, been overwhelmed, and taken over like an army might take over a base of operations.  It was hers now, and she passed through without effort.  She was there, close enough for Ulysse to swing at, until the children followed, surging forward with the press of bodies following.

They clawed, bit, scratched, and pulled.  Zed felt teeth sink into his leg, fingernails dragging against his throat and the side of his face.  He twisted, fighting to surface, looking back at Ray, who stood still, a glowing screen in his hands.  The quick barrier Jessica had drawn up protected him from the children, but it wasn’t going to hold.

Zed was dragged.  His things were dragged away from him, one by one.

Teeth bit into his arm, over and over again, tearing.

Slender hands gripped his wrist.  He pulled back, fought, panic surging, and they gripped him again.

The powerglove was wrested away from him.  He hadn’t even had a chance to use it here.

The children let him go.  Fingers pawed at his bleeding arm.

“Fuck me-” Chase said, a few feet away.  A moment later, he screamed.

Zed only caught his breath.  He found his bearings, and rolled over so he was looking up at the flickering moon.

Brie was there, standing over him, chewing on licorice.  She held his power glove.

He reached for it, and she pulled it away.

He flipped over, sat up, and then struggled to his feet.  She gave him a hand.

The children who’d pawed at his wounds were drawing lines, connecting them.

The eight participants.  The four he’d seen before, four more who were scraped up, bloody, and especially bewildered.

And around them, another ring of them.  Zed, Nicolette, Chase, Jessica, Amine, Ulysse, Eloise, Mr. Belanger, and Ms. Durocher.

Nicolette held a finger to her lips.  Zed nodded.

The movement of the moon kept a pretty good clock for them.  It was halfway across the night sky, the stuttering getting more violent, but less all over the place, like it was focusing in.

The bald man with the beard was staring at them, looking around.

Yeah, this was a change in pattern.

She’d sucked them in.  They were part of it.  They were under the Black Dog’s influence, pawns in her game.

Not at all according to plan.

“You should start,” Brie said, while chewing on the licorice.

Children hissed at her.

Her hand that held the licorice was shaking.

A song for your supper,” the bald man with the beard sang, his voice a deep baritone.

The children reached out, grabbing them, Zed growled as a kid bit into his shoulder.

“A morsel for a melody,” Zed sang.  Some of the others caught on.

The stakes had been raised.  Everyone had to sing every word now.

A ballad for your board.”

Ray was gone, which meant he’d managed to get away.  That was good.  A tool they could use.

“A chorus for your collation,”

They didn’t have a lot else.  Eloise was spent.  Ms. Durocher couldn’t speak.  Practice stuff had been torn away from them.  They’d taken Amine’s entire coat.

A tune for your tuck,” Zed sang.

Ulysse was still getting bit.  He was holding the weapon, and kids were trying to take it from him, only to burn their hands.  So they bit him instead.

Amine grabbed Ulysse’s wrist, shaking it.

Ulysse dismissed the weapon his god had given him.

“A refrain for your refreshment.”

They were in this now.

A piece for the potluck!” Zed sang.  Eloise got bit.  She’d missed a word.  ‘Your’ instead of ‘the’.

The children surrounded them.  Seventeen of them contained in a space that was only maybe ten paces across.

Brie pushed her way past kids, moving through the crowd.  Looking for someone or for something that she could use.  It was just them, just this.

A song for your supper,” they sang.  They drew out the words.

Stay on task,” a voice crackled through the walkie talkies.  “I’ve got a bead on you.  I’ll do what I can to move the pieces around the board.

If the tune is merry enough, will the dish be sweet?

Staying on task wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.  Zed winced, touching a bleeding wound.  They had to survive the night.

If the song is jolly enough, will the plate be neat?

This verse served their meal.  The ground was moving.

And if the ballad is lively enough, can we hope for meat?

Snakes.  They flowed over and around one another, silent, dark, coming out of holes and cracks in the earth, from Ms. Durocher’s earlier summoning.

The people closest to the center reached in, then pulled away.  The snakes were faster than their reaching hands, they were agitated, and the reaching hands were answered with lightning-fast bites.  Zed watched as one person strained, multiple teeth hooked into one hand, until only the middle finger and thumb could close.  He pulled against the mass of not just the five individual snakes, but the snakes over and around them that added to their cumulative weight.  The snake he was trying to grab slid through his fingers.

A song for our supper!” Zed sang.

One of the floodlights they’d erected on a stand in the circle they’d been huddled in was toppled.

Which cost them half of the light they had available.

“How shall we cut it, when we have no knife?”

The Black Dog was trying to kill them.  Tonight’s ritual was- it was vicious, hopeless.  Snakes, that might be venomous, in so great a quantity that they couldn’t even get them all.

Zed reached for Nicolette, pulling on her sleeve.  He did the same for Amine, who grabbed Ulysse.

“With our teeth,”

Zed looked to Chase, who was more than a little out of sorts with the snakes slithering around his feet.  He stepped on one and got bitten in answer.

And with our nails!

Nicolette had missed the ‘and’, and a child grabbed her, their whole weight gripping her arm as they sank their teeth into her side.  She twisted, and landed amid snakes.  Zed did what he could to haul her to her feet, but stepped on a snake.  Teeth sank into his leg.

Digging in,” Zed sang.

Nicolette, lying on the ground, tried to grab snakes and failed.  They weren’t moving like snakes did.

And singing out!

Zed looked to Alexander instead of Chase.

Alexander got Chase’s attention.

How glad we are to dine!

There was a way to challenge the ritual, and tonight, with the malice biasing the challenge, would be a great time to do that… except there was a rub.  A trick.  Rad Ray Sunshine had explained it at one of the rest stops.  It was easy for a ritual like this to jam some hidden trick or secret into things.  A magic word, a hidden verse, or a secret a way to make the animals behave.  Like… playing music.  Or something.  Not that Zed had his.

A song for my supper!

The man with the beard was bitten in the neck by a child with braces and gaudy blue eyeshadow.  He’d said ‘your’ instead of ‘my’.

The challenge didn’t work.  It was like trying to guess a combination, and the test of the fairness of this trial being proven by someone who knew the combination.

I’ll come to the table,” Zed sang, trying to think, and trying not to step on any snakes.

Which in itself could be challenged, but that got tricky.  They’d kind of come here cheating in the first place.  They’d invited the current circumstances, and there was a kind of karma in the Black Dog turning the tables on them.

Every night this moon.

Zed led the others away from the teeming morass of snakes.  Into the thick of the crowd where children refused to move out of the way.

And ne’er again find myself,” Zed sang.

Brie pushed forward.  Children grabbed her.

Picking up a spoon.

“I’m getting something to eat,” Brie said.

The hands released her.

They couldn’t get in between her and her prize.  The very being of the Devouring Song was tied into that.  She couldn’t be obstructed from eating.  Hurting her mid-meal did that, so the nibbling on the licorice from that king-size bag served to protect her.  Any lasting harm or death was similar, because she couldn’t be kept from future meals.

Nor a fork, nor a blade.

Brie forged the way.  Breaking up the children with Zed right behind her.  The others following.

They abandoned their meal of biting snakes and pushed forward into the tide.

Alexander cleared his throat.  Zed looked back, and saw Chase pointing.

Nor a plate, nor a cup.

His pointing finger moved.

Yalda was out there, in the crowd of children.  A needle in a haystack, and they were wading through brambles.  The children couldn’t grab them or hurt them, but they could get in the way.

Oh, I’ll have stayed…

Yalda wasn’t obstructed, and they were.  Brie could forge the way forward, but it was hard for her to do that and keep track of Chase, when Chase was hobbled, limping with an injured leg.

Full and supped.

Alexander lifted up the walkie talkie.  He cleared his throat, then he coughed.

“Yes,” Ray said, on the other end.  “Left and right?”

Alexander cleared his throat.

And sated since this tune!

Zed pushed forward, grabbing Brie’s hand.

They broke into a run.  Not moving as a fuller group now, but as a pair.  Others followed, best as they could, without the benefit of Brie forging the way.  The children, at least, were short enough they could see over their heads.

A song for my supper!

Witnesses were converging on the others.  Adult-size.  Some of the waifs weren’t children, but just sickly, skinny adults.

All of them gathering.

Left,” the walkie talkie buzzed.

Brie headed left.

I shall not miss a single beat!


They kept going, turning further left.

Or else I’ll offer tonight’s treat.

Chase was relaying the directions.  He didn’t have tools, he didn’t have the ability to speak, nothing to write with.  Just Sight and what he’d trained himself to do on a raw, personal level.

The others were now protecting Ray, pushing down children who piled up to be more of an obstruction, and pushing back the witnesses, who stumbled dumbly ahead.

I shall not miss a single word.

There was no instruction from Ray.

Which probably meant straight.

“Split up!  Left and straight!”

Or else I am the one who’s served.

Splitting up was dangerous.  Without Brie, Zed didn’t have the means to really charge forward.

But he gave Ray his trust.  He tugged on Brie’s arm, sending her left, then charged forward, taking the clearest path across the field.  Snakes bit as his legs, some not quite getting through his jeans, and becoming more dead weight.

He used his sight to peer past the crowd.  To look for the intensity, for anything that might be his target.

He saw a glimmer.  A brighter set of retro lasers.

And I’ll tell you that on these nights…


She’d stopped running.  Just past her was the fissure.

It wasn’t where it had been.  It had moved.

Now it flickered slightly, like bad video.

A bit of help from Ray.  A glitch.

That I shan’t fail to take a bite,” Zed sang.

Yalda turned on him.  Her flickering eyes met his.  She exuded hatred a child shouldn’t be capable of, breathing hard.

He could hear the others in the background, singing.

Zed let the next lyric pass.

Children around him, beside him, and behind him grabbed him, biting.  Teeth sank into his shoulder.

To sing it would be binding, in a dangerous way.

The little girl smiled.

Zed let another line pass, grimacing.  He fought to keep the bites to nonlethal areas, except he was taking so many that he was pretty sure blood loss was a concern.  Pain made it hard to think straight or keep the current circumstances straight.

Yalda walked through the morass of waifs, eyes closing enough the moonlight flicker wasn’t visible.  So she could disappear into the crowd.

Zed grabbed for her.  Waifs grabbed him.

He hooked fingers into the fabric of her jacket.

And it’ll be a mess,” Zed sang.  Kids released him.  He got a better grip.

She pulled free.  She was a third of his size and he was shaky and weak enough that she could beat him in a small contest of strength.

He hated being weak.

Oh, this shall be a mess,” Zed sang.

Brie pushed forward, licorice falling from her lips.  She grabbed Yalda.

The girl looked up at her.

Brie bit.

A song for your supper,” Zed sang.

Brie bit again, then again.

Yalda coudln’t fight her.  Because to do so would be to deny the prize winner her prize, which would be to deny the very fabric of the Choir.

A ditty for some din,” Zed sang.

The tenor of things had shifted.  There was less noise, and it felt like there had been a roar before, and now there was nothing.  But the only noise had been the singing, the movement of a thousand-plus people, and the shuffling of a tide of snakes.

A crooning for our chow.

Brie’s weight pressed the Black Dog down.  She kept eating.

“A helping…” Zed started.

He stopped.

The children didn’t attack.

He turned, wincing at the pain of a dozen deep-set bites, and there seemed to be less waifs than before.

He swayed a bit, then sat down hard.  The others were coming.

Brie, hunched over, continued eating, barely chewing.

Jessica reached them first.  Zed pointed at Brie, and Jessica began using blood from her own wounds to make lines on Brie’s skin.  A temporary thing.  She’d need something more lasting.

Nicolette dropped to her knees beside Zed.  She’d found one of their bags.  Medical stuff.  She handed him something to drink.

“Phone,” he said.


“Have to.  Made a promise.”

Nicolette found someone else’s phone.  Maybe Amine’s.  But Amine wasn’t here to unlock it.

She got the walkie talkie, instead.  She held it up.  “Dial for us, Ray?”

“I’ll patch you through.  What number?”

Zed winced.  His head felt foggy.

Who even remembered phone numbers, nowadays?

But he’d prided himself on his memorization.  He’d managed the song, only missing lyrics that he’d meant to.

He gave them the number.

It rang three times before someone picked up.

“We’re here,” said the voice on the other end.  “What happened?”

“Too much to cover, and you don’t have much time.  Ask her.”

He set the walkie-talkie down, holding the transmit button.

There was a delay.  A shuffling of paper.

Brie continued, head turned away, like she didn’t want to be seen like this.

Zed wanted to touch her, to reassure.  He worried she’d flinch.

“We need privacy.  To ask these questions.”

“I didn’t promise it.”

“We need it.  We’ve sworn an oath to keep certain things concealed.  We literally can’t accept this information if it isn’t private, which means you can’t accept your end of the deal.”

Zed looked over at Brie.  “If the person currently restraining the Black Dog was to walk away, the Black Dog would be free.”

“That’s your problem to handle, not ours,” the voice on the other end said.  “Sorry, but figure it out.”

“I kind of like her,” Nicolette commented.

“Would everyone present except for Brie please give us some privacy?” Zed asked.  “Ray?  Can you handle this?”

“You need to be more mindful of the deals you’re making, Zed.”

“It seemed necessary to get this far.  We got her.  Let’s keep her.  Please.”

“I’ll mute everything.  Call my home phone when you’re done.”

“Thank you.”

Brie glanced over her shoulder at Zed.

It was just them, the Black Dog, and the walkie talkie.

“Brie will keep your confidence.  I’m sure of that,” Zed said.

“Will you swear it?”

“She needs to be awakened, to protect her,” Zed told them.  “I swear to guard her until such a time as we can awaken her, unless you release me from that.  I’ll keep her safe and silent on all matters relating to your conversation with the Black Dog until she can be awakened, and made to swear she won’t say anything on the subject.  I swear my own silence, until you release me.”

Nicolette had left behind the medical supplies.  Zed resumed bandaging himself up.

They took a while to deliberate.  The only sound was the rustling of a hand over the phone.


“Then ask.”

“Yalda,” the voice on the walkie talkie said.

Yalda’s head turned to look at the thing.  Her eyes were dimmer.

“Are you the murder weapon, used by others to kill the Carmine Beast?”

The girl remained silent.

“Answer their questions, and we’ll strike a deal,” Zed told the Black Dog.  “We’re binding you, not destroying you.  Give them what they need, and we’ll relax the binding.  You’ll be able to continue the ritual, in a fashion.  You won’t have as much control, but the way it continues, there’ll be more practitioners engaged in it.  They’ll be the ones going for access.  You seem to hate us.  So… you get more chances at us.  Or we can bind you and put you away for a long time, until we figure out another way to deal with you.”

“Yes,” Yalda said.  “I killed the red wolf.”

“Who asked you to do it?” another of the girls asked.

“I learned no names.”

“Their face?”

“I saw no face.  They were masked.  Cloth over the head.”

“Male or female?”

“A man.  There was a woman as well.  Also masked.”

“Did the man move like he was older?  Did you sense anything from him?”

“I sensed nothing beyond the circle in the ground.  He moved like he was older, but he wasn’t old.”

“If I may?” Zed interjected.

“I don’t know, may you?” the angrier girl asked.  “Is this a loophole, where you can bring your own additions to the conversation to others?”

“Ooh, good thinking,” another girl said.

“No.  I’ll keep your confidence.  The masks they’re talking about, they’re not uncommon in some circles.  When you deal with a lot of hostile Others, you don’t want them coming after you.  It’s also a way to make it easier to evade a bounce-back, from a curse or a wayward summoning.  I thought your own masks might be something like that.”

Brie continued chewing.

“Does that help us?” one of the girls asked.  It was a lower volume, which might have been her asking her friends.

“Summoners often do it,” Zed told them.  “They fabricate or conjure up Others, and if someone uses enough force, they can try to send that Other to the origin point.  The person who brought that Other there or brought it into being.”

“That gives us a suspect, then.  Okay, so-”

Zed heard a gun slide cock.

It was one of the eight original ritual participants.  The kid with the mask.  He carried a gun.

He aimed it at Brie.

“We have an interruption.  Sorry,” Zed told the girls.

“Stop,” the boy with the mask said.  “Jeez.  Stop.”

Brie kept eating.  She had to.

“The ritual will continue.  It’ll be weaker,” Zed said.

“Why like this?”

“Because Brie cannot be denied her meal.  Because the girl with the silver eyes that’s at the source of the ritual would curse or hurt anyone that brings her down, probably, but she can’t hurt or curse Brie.  Because Brie is guaranteed to be free of any harm or suffering she might otherwise have as a consequene of eating.  So that curse has nowhere to go.  The ritual can’t end or die, because that would end the protections Brie gets and she’d die in short order.  It has to reconfigure, transform, in a way that keeps things intact.”

The gun wavered.  “This is insanity.”

Brie gulped down another bite.

“Stop, I said!”

“She can’t.  If she does, we all probably die,” Zed told the boy.

“You’re a monster,” the boy said.

The wavering of the gun stopped.  He’d found some kind of conviction.

“Don’t-” Zed told him.

The boy switched to a two-handed grip.  He shifted that grip, planting his feet, and his foot slid in the mud that had been kicked up by the creation of the big hole in the ground.  The gun dropped, and went off.  He’d shot himself in the foot.

He fell, the gun fell from his grip, and went off again, with no hand on the trigger.

It took the top of the boy’s head off, cracking the mask.

Brie looked away.  Shame seemed to define everything in her expression, posture, and overall body language.  Enough that it overwhelmed the impact of seeing a teenage boy die.

Zed looked and saw Mr. Belanger and Nicolette Belanger standing off to the side.  Nicolette looked away from the results of what she or her teacher had done, uncomfortable.  Mr. Belanger didn’t flinch, simply staring.

They were scary in their own way.  Handling the boy like that.

“What was that?” the girl asked over the walkie talkie.

“Ask your questions.  We’re approaching a point where you might not be able to ask more.”

“We have way more.  We can’t keep going?  Or revisit this?  Can you unbind her?”

“Something this strong and wild?  I don’t think so.  And I don’t think you get ‘way’ more questions.  You might only have one or two.”

There was a pause.

“Is she dying?”

“No.  She’s… translating to another form.  Something this powerful doesn’t ‘die’, in the conventional sense.”


There was an exchange of words.

“Can you ask her- or if she can hear- Yalda, is there anything you want us to say to your friend?”

The girl turned to look at the walkie talkie.

“To John?”

“Tell him- I wish him well.  I hope he learns to sing.”

“He’s learning.  He’s still not great at it,” a softer voice said.

Yalda closed those silver eyes.

“He’s good.  He misses you,” one of the other girls said.

Yalda nodded.

“Keep talking about him,” Zed told them.

“He sings, his voice a little too high, while playing guitar, sitting on his back porch.  He remembers you fondly.  I think it hurt, to do what he did.”

“He’s found a kind of peace, as much as a Dog Tag can find peace.  He’s got friends.  Us included, we hope.”

“I brought him a video game.  I still need to ask how he liked it.”

“He’s a cool guy, even if he pulled a gun on us when we surprised him with a visit.”

Yalda nodded.  Her head stopped moving mid-nod.

“We can end the call here.  She’s nonresponsive.  I can get you more information about summoners later.  Or you’ll get it when you come to the school this summer,” Zed said.

“Can we ask- is this conversation still confidential?”

“I got what I wanted out of this.  I don’t really know or care all that much about the Carmine Beast business.  It’s one of those greater-balance things that self-resolves if you ignore it.”

“That’s not a yes or a no.”

“Yes.  I’ll keep it private.  So will Brie, after I get her to swear some minor oaths.”

Brie nodded.

“Can someone Forsworn use the practice, as a summoner?  Is there a way?”

“I- no.  Pretty much by definition.”

“Because we know someone unawakened can use stuff, like stumbling on cursed items, or signing up for the Hungry Choir ritual.”

“Oh, that’s different.  That’s um, the power and permission isn’t coming from the spirits or anything like that.”

The blood loss was giving Zed a gnarly headache.  He’d bandaged up as much as possible, but he was pretty sure he should go to a hospital.

“So… it’s possible?”

“It’s not using the practice.  But if you had the right tools… I guess.”

“Even making a Hungry Choir?”

“Something that specific and complex?  You’d need a lot of specific tools, and a lot of power.  More than your usual forsworn person might have access to.”

“Okay.  Alright.  That helps.”

“Alright?  Because I should be headed to a hospital.  This was… harder than expected.”

“Go.  Be safe.  Thanks.”

Zed turned off the walkie talkie.  He remained sitting in mud, feeling about ten times as overwhelmed as could remember feeling before.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t dealt with the monumental before.  But he was so diminished, bled out, weak, sore, and weary, that the degree of what he was feeling dwarfed him in a way he couldn’t articulate.

He stared off into space for a few minutes.

“You going to be okay?” Zed asked Brie.

She nodded.  She didn’t pause, because pausing was dangerous.

Zed made his way to his feet, and rejoined the others.


It took four and a half hours to get sorted out at the emergency room.  Eloise hadn’t been a huge help during the event, but in a situation like this, she was in her element, manipulating connections and smoothing things over.  It helped to ensure the hospital staff didn’t ask too many questions about the people with all the bite marks, blood loss, the various venoms running through them… it had only been a few poisonous snakes, and Jessica had been able to help with that.  The benefit of having a wide knowledge base.

Zed returned to the field, taking the weird route of multiple turns that should have taken him back to where he started.

Four and a half hours later, and Brie was still eating.  She crunched on bone.  The masked boy’s body had been taken away.  Ulysse set to using his god-given mace to break bones into easier to consume pieces.

“I worried you weren’t coming back,” Brie said.  She had thick black lines painted on her now.  To keep the source of the ritual bound within her body.  The body was diminished enough she could talk without risking its escape.  It wasn’t like it could hobble away, when there was scraps of meat on bone and little else.

“What? Why- no.  Of course I came back.”

She shrugged.

“You did well,” Ulysse said.  “If you awaken and come to the school, we’ll be glad to have you.”

“I’m monstrous.  I’m- I just ate a child.”

“You ate the monster,” Zed told her.

“I didn’t even hate eating it.  I’m not even disgusted.  The prize, it- it means those barriers are gone.  Is this the road I go down?”

“The road you go down is the road you choose,” Zed told her.

She took two handfuls of broken bone fragments from Ulysse, then ate them.  When Zed offered her a drink, she used it to wash the fragments down.

“A lot less people will suffer now.  You’ve beat it.  We beat it.”

He could still see the doubt in her eyes.

Others were leaving the car.  They’d stopped at various points, to search for and pick up things that had been torn away from them.  Nicolette held the music player and scratch-a-sketch, and made her way over, avoiding the muddy patches.

“You made good progress,” Nicolette said.  She looked at Zed.  “I’m trying to decide whether I should sleep, eat, or do something to distract myself.”

“Eating?” Zed asked.  “I don’t have much appetite.”

“What about you, Brie?” Nicolette asked.  “Want to go get a palate cleanser, after?”

“I could, but I think the fact I could would make me feel more wrong.

“You’re not wrong, Brie,” Nicolette said.  “You’re the hero of the night.  I don’t think there’s a single person here who doesn’t respect you for managing this.”

“Yeah,” Zed said.  “You should get mucho cred for this one.  Believe me.”

The doubt seemed to lift, at least a bit.

“I know I made promises while you weren’t free to talk,” he told her.  “I hope it’s okay.  Coming to the school with us.  Awakening.”

“Yeah,” Brie said.  She smiled, a little hesitant.

That she could smile meant that things were okay.  A little bit of power lost.  They’d find something for Brie to wear or even try a simple tattoo, if she was amenable, or tap into the power within her to drain it until it was more manageable.

This was a win.  Those parts of Zed that had been so worried about failure were satisfied.  It had almost gone wrong in the worst ways possible, but… they’d pulled through.  The people he’d trusted and counted on had proven worthy of that trust and counting.

He did have his worries, though.  The degree of intent behind the Carmine Beast event… the premeditation, the covering of tracks, and the creation of something like this, implied to be done well in advance for that specific purpose?

That was concerning, turning the Carmine Beast thing from bad luck into obvious foul play. On a large scale, bigger than even the scope of the ‘Choir’.

He’d sworn not to follow those concerns, but he hadn’t sworn not to investigate or look into it privately.

He was very interested, now, in the next moves of the three young practitioners.

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44 thoughts on “Out on a Limb – 3.z

  1. That… was a really satisfying victory against the choir. The fact that the answer was so obvious, and so obviously uncounterable once we saw it. The horror, the fear.

    Rad Ray sunshine is actually pretty bloody Rad. Zed is a gods damn hero… and unlike Nicolette’s view, which painted all the other practioners as threats, Zed seems to have a pretty positive relationship with everybody.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think Nicolette mostly talked shit about the Belangers, which Zed also got in on–calling Alexander a sleazy entrepaneur or however you write it and constantly looking for an opportunity to punch the fuckboy.

      In her interlude, Nicolette makes a brief mention of her allies in the school and she sounds friendly enough.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Which probably has a lot to do with the Practitioners they learned from. To quote Zed, Rad “was a mess, and there were times he was borderline abusive, but he was also the first person who had really backed Zed up when he needed it.”
      On the other hand, Alexander is exploiting Nicolette and her situation, with a rather disturbing endgame he hopes to trap her in, and the other practitioners working with him aren’t much better. (Remember Chase?)

      Zed’s first introduction to magic was Rad. Nicolette’s introduction was getting her head split open so badly spirits started leaking in, then joining a viper’s nest of practitioners trying to get her forsworn, married off for profit, or in bed. Of course their feelings about magic and magicians are different. Zed thinks most Practitioners are swell guys because his first contact was a swell guy; Nicolette expects Practitioners to be threats because her first contacts were.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Seeing Nicolette interact positively with other practitioners after the hell that was her interlude is interesting. It really does seem like she’s got a true friend in Zed, for example. I guess things do get better for her when she has non-Bellanger’s to interact with.


  3. So, Charles and Edith killed the Carmine Beast using the Hungry Choir as a murder weapon, but why? Was it some sort of attempt at escaping being Forsworn and Doomed?

    Liked by 2 people

      • Matthew didn’t leave by the coin during the trio’s Awakening.
        Miss and Maricica aren’t the only lady to love their secrets.


    • Alternatively, could have been Maricica disguised as Charles to easily push blame on the forsworn negative-infinity-karma scapegoat.
      Or Maricica as herself and the Candlelight girl possessing Charles for similar reasons…

      Liked by 1 person

    • My main picks right now too. Charles motive seems the most obvious; to not be Charles.
      9 years ago he would have been recently foresworn and looking for ways to recover. One thing we’ve been clearly shown is that when you become a guardian spirt you leave your old Identity behind. Good way to clear an insurmountable karmic debt?
      He also had both the knowledge to create others and the tools of that trade. The fact that he’s since given them away doesn’t really matter.
      Edith could be looking for an alternate way to handle the doom that is inside of Matthew (either for his sake or hers, not really relevant). If Carmine beast has dominion over that destructive force, then having a cooperative Carmine beast could be a very tempting prospect for Edith.
      Edith did excuse herself from questioning with a rather suspicious timing with a set of suspicious assertions that seemed to speak to the issues but gave her the opportunity to control the information provided.


  4. That was a dark, tense and above all fantastic battle against the Hungry Choir, The use of Brie as a paradox/loophole to interfere when things went to s**t and in the end ATE Yalda herself was… Christ. Brilliant and horrifying.

    The coven talking about John with Yalda was… quite wholesome and kind. In a very sad and bittersweet way. Maybe my favourite moment of the chapter.

    Zed also continues to be the best.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Im tryinna think what might have been the yaldas thought process while getting eaten.”I must stop her and kill her.But I said she can eat anything she wanted uninterrupted.But I didnt said she can eat mee.But anything..”


  5. Oh, God, snakes. I literally shuddered when the snakes first appeared.

    Almost got mad at the gun going off when it was dropped – gun manufacturers these days are very careful to ensure that sort of thing won’t happen – then realized it was a magic effect


  6. If the choir was created with the intention of killing the beast, this has been planned far in advance, and perhaps the adding of of new practitioners was part of the plan, possibly even the primary goal with the beasts power being a bonus…

    Also something that just occurred to me… since the beast is a beast could it have been dragged Into the ritual and become a target?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “Is the reward really like they say it is? Is it good?”
    “It’s not good,” Brie said. “I needed it, I think. It’s necessary for me. But… you lose as much as you get. Or more.”
    The kid sagged a bit. “It’s not that strong? It doesn’t fix everything?”
    “It’s stronger than we were led to believe,” Brie said. “It fixed everything.”
    “Then I really don’t get it,” the kid said.

    I don’t blame him. You know those creepypastas where the author is vaguely describing something that’s supposed to sound horrible, but they clearly don’t have a good idea of why it’s bad? Brie sounds like that.

    In cases where those Others had been ones who preyed on fear or negativity, the items unfortunately became things that couldn’t recharge or sustain themselves.

    I’m glad that Zed wasn’t taught by the kind of Practitioner willing to recharge them.
    Speaking of which, Zed gives me the same “this could have been another story’s protagonist” vibes as Nicolette, albeit for different reasons. Or maybe one of them is the Znttvr Ubyg to the other’s Blake Thorburn…though Zntf also gives me the possible-past-protagonist vibe.
    Look, Wildbow mentioned that a lot of fan favorite characters in Worm (and also Krouse) were protagonists in earlier drafts when he’d mostly worked out the setting, and between them and Genevieve Fray I’ve been alert for other characters like that.

    In any event, He wanted to do right by Raymond. The guy was a mess, and there were times he was borderline abusive, but he was also the first person who had really backed Zed up when he needed it.

    That kind of complex relationship with a mentor figure, ripe for internal conflict? Yeah, definitely an ex-protagonist. (Though between Rad and Alexander, I’m not looking forward to seeing the secrets of Miss’s mentorship revealed…)
    Anyways, while I’m on the subject of Nicolette and Rad, I’m glad they’re friendly. If the Kennet coven sees the Practitioner they are on decent terms with (and also Brie) getting along with the one they’re antagonistic towards, they might give her a second chance. I hope.

    “Zoe,” Chase said.
    “It’s Zed now,” Zed told the guy, thumb and finger pressed against his eyelids, rubbing. “It has been for a year and a half, you know that. Don’t make me punch you.”

    Well, that confirms a few things. Like that Chase is the worst. I guess some Others have an excuse—they’re pretty bad with remembering that some people prefer to be called by their nicknames, and nicknames are a tradition as old as names—but Chase is just a douche.

    She had her familiar with her. A black centipede as long as her arm, wound around her arm. Its head was buried in a cluster of multi-layered fungus. It lifted that head to peer at Zed with one eye the fungus didn’t touch.

    Her centipede had become a tattoo, encircling one bicep, disappearing under her clothes, and forming a coil around her neck.

    Dang that’s cool. Schartzmugel is a pretty obvious collection of corruption motifs (especially if you’re as into Japanese culture as…some people I won’t name), which makes me wonder if it’s a demon or a mote or something.
    I really need to look up Pale fanart.

    Brie pushed forward, licorice falling from her lips. She grabbed Yalda.
    The girl looked up at her.
    Brie bit.

    Wildbow, you sick author. How could you do this. This is great.

    “A man. There was a woman as well. Also masked.”

    …Not sure how this affects the “Miss killed Carmine Beast” theory, but there you go.

    “I didn’t even hate eating it. I’m not even disgusted. The prize, it- it means those barriers are gone.”

    This kind of thing is what separates Wildbow from the creepypastas I was talking about at the beginning. He figures out what is so disturbing about this idea, and makes sure the story goes on to a point where those things are clear. Being able to chomp down on children (or, as seen a few chapters ago, stomach the taste of goblin) without the slightest hint of disgust or remorse is…disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I cannot imagine that any sane practitioner would take a demon or mote as a familiar, and establishing that sort of connection to one would most likely leave you defenseless to its influences — Eloise would be subsumed, reduced to something wretched, or made into its puppet.

      The Duchamp family also knows quite well that you do. not. fuck. with. demons. They wouldn’t let one of their own make such a terrible decision, putting the entire family in danger.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, probably. But they’re the only corruption-ey Other I could think of off the top of my head, and at the moment I’m not theorizing hard enough to check the wiki for others.

        And I’m not sure sane practitioners are the majority. Why would they be any better than ordinary people?


    • I think we can discount Schartzmugel being demonic in nature, since Eloise still seems basically functional. She’s not a ruined husk of a person. She’s talking to the other practitioners normally, and not getting mistaken for one of the wretches.
      Ebfr Gubeohea Fravbe unq fhpu n tbbq eryngvbafuvc jvgu fbzr yrffre qrzbaf/zbgrf gung fur pbhyq fhzzba gurz whfg ol qenjvat n fvzcyr pvepyr naq cbyvgryl erdhrfgvat gurz gb nccrne, naq gurl fgvyy qrfgeblrq fbzr bs ure orybatvatf whfg ol gurve cerfrapr. I don’t think trying to wear one on your skin as a tattoo would end well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh jeez, as soon as Zed and Brie started chasing after Yalda I knew it was gonna happen, but… dang

    Glad the girls thought to ask what Yalda would like to say to John, and then told her about how he’s doing as she died. Again.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’m incredibly interested in what sort of practitioner Brie might become. She has an awesome power source and some cool abilities right from the start, and sh seems pretty smart and reliable too. Give her a little while and she could be a huge danger to anyone who tries to make an enemy of her.


    • She just ate an Other and very possibly absorbed a fraction of it’s power. With that as her introduction to the practice, I imagine it might grease the wheels for her becoming a Host of sorts, if she wanted to accept that path.


  10. Gotta be honest, at the start I didn’t like Brie, ’cause Reagan seemed so cool.

    But this Interlude, combined with how she’s probably going to become a Host (one of my favourite Practices) and an Eater at that (my fave type of Host), I’m warming up to her.

    Also, very sweet of the girls to talk to Yalda about John.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Summer school may have VLA share classes with a second trio made of Nicolette, Zed & Brie.
    Well, considering how Nicolette behaved this time, she seems to have solved most of the issues plaguing her since last we met. Hopefully this shared acquaintance will prevent the worst.


  12. Typo thread:
    “said, turning, his the bottom”

    “of her head an ornament”
    Could use a comma.

    “Incarnation related others tend”
    “used his sight to”

    “Snakes bit as his legs,”

    “Yalda coudln’t fight”

    Liked by 1 person

    • “It’s Zed now,” Zed told the guy, thumb and finger pressed against his eyelids, rubbing. “It has been for a year and a half, you know that. Don’t make me punch you.”

      Try this instead:

      “It’s Zed,” Zed told the guy, thumb and finger pressed against his eyelids, rubbing. “You’ve had a year and a half to get used to it. Don’t make me punch you.”

      Trans people don’t typically like to act like it was a change because from their perspective it was more about letting go of a mold they don’t fit into than changing who they were.


      • I advise against making such concrete, sweeping statements about an entire group of diverse people. Not every trans person feels that kind of disconnection from their past identity. Some (and I know at least two personally) see it as a change in life circumstances, akin to growing up or moving into a new community — they aren’t that past person anymore, but that past person is still part of their history. Not a shameful past of deception, just another time and place that’s been left behind.

        I can see this being doubly true for a practitioner. Identity is very important for practitioners, and cutting ties with who you were when you awakened could potentially cause a lot of problems. It seems to me that it would be much safer to approach it as a path you’re walking down that brings a new name with it, at which point saying “it’s (name) now” — with its corresponding acknowledgement that the old name was correct at some time in the past — maintains a connection to the person who made an introduction to the Others.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I really like that the solution to the Hungry Choir was to literally eat it. Also, I’m tickled by the mental image of Brie just wandering around nibbling on licorice while everyone else is frantically fighting off snakes and cannibal waifs. Hop to, fan-artists!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I had to take a break from reading this chapter to drive through a rainy night, while a car radio with bad reception played some rather disjointed artsy piece consisting of whispered dialogue, classical music and ambient noise.

    That was an experience.


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