Blind To The Big Surprise
rating: +13+x

FIRST: When Situations Degenerate

"Gwen! I'm going into hiding," Iris shouted as she slammed open the door of her dorm room. Her roommate, Gwenhwyfar Thistlebranch—eleventh in line to the Sidhe throne, heiress to the Thistlebranch Publishing fortune, and Deer Student Body President-In-Exile—shrieked, and yanked her sheets up to her chin.

"There was a sock on the door! You can't just barge in," Gwen shouted back. She was clearly not alone under the blanket.

"I can if it's an emergency. Hey, Morty."

"The spawn of hellfire greets you, mortal," Mordecai Diabolus—prospective Antichrist, Deer Student Body President-For-Life, and Gwen's it's-complicated—growled from somewhere around Gwen's waist. His voice sounded like a thousand tormented souls screaming in harmony, like a church roof collapsing on a crowded mass, like a politician denying war-crimes and genocides. He cleared his throat, and tried again. "Uh, sorry, hey, Iris. I'd come out from under here, but I'm, um."

Iris sighed. "Do not want to know. Put whatever kinky shit you got going on under there on hold, because, as I said, I am going into hiding."

"Why are you going into hiding?" Gwen was also under the blanket now, fiddling with whatever handcuffs or ropes or shackles were hidden beneath. "Did you do something embarassing at the afterparty? Did you do someone embarassing at the afterparty?"

"Nope, I'm not joking, this is serious." Iris grabbed a duffel bag from under her bed and started throwing clothes into it. "I think someone just tried to kidnap me. And I had to do some very illegal rollerblade stunts to escape. So probably I'm also low-key on the run from the law? It's a whole thing."

"Wait, ok, who tried to kidnap you?" Morty had been freed, and was now sitting up, the sheets barely maintaining his modesty. He was still wearing a collar. "Because—and I mean this in the nicest way possible—you're a nobody."

"I know!" That was probably enough clothing—half a dozen black t-shirts, a few pairs of black jeans, a pile of black socks and black underwear. She moved on to the bookshelf. "I was taking the shortcut behind Sizzle Pie, and bam, there's a limo parked right across the Way, and some smug British dude pops out, all 'Oooooh, Ms. Black, I've been expecting you,' and he's got these freaky bodyguard goons…" She held up a couple grimoires for inspection. "You think I'll need either of these?"

"Uhhh. Probably not the Clavicula, you never do that ceremonial crap, and if you really need it you can find the Mathers translation online." Gwen had gotten a t-shirt on, and was sitting up next to Morty, unbuckling his collar. "But Modern Thaumatology is a classic, and it's got that DRM that gives you boils if you try to scan it. Bring that one. Did you get a name?"

"Yeah. 'Chrysophilus Marshall, but my friends call me Skitter'. Had a friend, too, French guy in a bright pink Rolls Royce." She pitched a few more books into the duffle. Her reagent kit and her portable lab were too fragile, they'd have to go into the backpack, but her staff split nicely into three segments, which she slid in under the clothes. "What about my getting-laid underwear? Think I'll need those in hiding?"

"Was… Was the French guy wearing, like, a bucket hat and a track suit?" Morty looked even paler than usual, an accomplishment for a man whose normal skin tone was comparable to a drowned corpse.

Iris froze midway through refolding her sexiest bra-and-panty set. "Yes. How did you know?"

"I think I know them. More by reputation than personally. Their families are in business with my father."

"What, like…" Iris gestured vaguely downwards.

"No. Well, maybe. But I'm talking about the human one. He's… An import-export specialist."

"Smuggler."

"Yes, thank you Gwen, love it when you spill my family's deadly secrets everywhere. Didn't you sign the NDA at Thanksgiving? Whatever, doesn't matter. The Frenchman is Alphonse Cartier. Related to the Carters. As in Marshall, Carter and Dark." Iris and Gwen stared at him blankly. "Oh, right, no, you wouldn't know, would you. Iris is poor-" Gwen elbowed him sharply. "Uh, working-class? Low socio-economic status? Not filthy fucking rich? And Gwen, you're the wrong kind of nobility and the wrong kind of wealthy, you've got, like, morals and shit."

"You gonna get to the point any time soon?" Might as well bring the sexy underwear. Just in case she met some hot UIU agent played by a young Gillian Anderson and had to seduce her to escape from custody.

"Marshall, Carter and Dark are… A gentleman's club, I guess. Uh, not like a strip club. Like a place where a bunch of old dudes go to smoke cigars and drink whisky and bitch about their wives. Or they were, back in the day, but now they're also an auction house, and a brokerage, and a middleman for all kinds of freaky shit. Lots of money, lots of power, lots of connections."

"Well, fuck." Weed stash, check. (It was in a hollowed-out copy of Atlas Shrugged, last year's Yuletide gag gift from Gwen.) Hormones, check. (Estrogen, progesterone, spironolactone. She'd been getting them from the Maxwellist Free Clinic on Turing Street since high school.) "What do they want with me? Skitter, the Marshall guy, said he had a 'business proposition' for me, but I assumed that was just him trying to get me into the car."

"Yeah, probably. Oh, here's your laptop charger, I had to borrow it, mine kind of exploded." Gwen tossed it over. "So do you know where you're gonna go? If you want to stay at my parents' house I could call up the Royal Guard, get them to keep an eye out."

"Gwen, I appreciate the offer, but I'm not sure what a bunch of corgi-riding pixies armed with ceremonial halberds—"

"Glaives! Not halberds!"

"Armed with ceremonial glaives are going to do against people who can presumably hire the private military contractor of their choice." Iris stuffed one final trashy paperback into her duffel bag and zipped it closed. "And Morty, before you offer, I would rather not hide out anywhere tartarean, abyssal, infernal, or otherwise hellish."

"Actually I was going to say—"

"New Jersey counts as 'otherwise hellish'."

"Even Atlantic City?"

"Especially Atlantic City. Nah, I think I'm going to ask Alliott for help."

"Alliott Chao?" Gwen looked puzzled. "The fashion designer? Captain of the worst derby team in the city?"

"Wait, hold on, I know an Alliott Chao, but she's…" Morty paused, trying and failing to find a euphemism. "OK, she's an arms dealer. And a fashion designer, but I think that's a cover, unless it's the other way around."

"Yep, same woman." One final check around the room turned up the charger for her headphones and her American passport, which was generally less useful than the British one but she should probably bring just in case. "She has layers."

"Like an—"

"Morty, I swear to Lugh, if you quote Shrek in bed I'll cuff you to the headboard and…" Gwen trailed off, glancing awkwardly at Iris. "Sorry, sorry, TMI."

"And on that note, I'm gonna head out. Let me know if you hear anything useful." Iris paused, halfway out the door. "Hey, so, is the whole presidency deal a sex thing for you guys? Whoever's winning gets to top? 'Oh, Mr. President, I've been a bad little seditionist and I need to be punished'?"

Gwen turned beet-red, but Mordecai just grinned. "Don't be ridiculous, Iris. I only get subbier when I'm president."


Kemonomimi Zaibatsu's ThreePorts location was a gorgeous boutique near Prometheus Plaza, stocked with all the latest in transhumanist cyberfashion. It was thoroughly above-board, the local geeks loved it, and Alliot Chao wouldn't be caught dead within spitting distance. Normally, when she was in Portlands, Alliot preferred to hang out at Kallisti, the club she probably owned when you considered the name and her religious affiliation; but today was a Friday, so there was only one place she could be.

"COMMANDMENT THREE! A Discordian is Required during his early Illumination to Go Off Alone & Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog on a Friday!"

The best hot dog cart in Three Portlands was owned by a middle-aged Icelandic man named Harry (short for Haraldr).

"This Devotive Ceremony to Remonstrate against the popular Paganisms of the Day!"

He'd been selling hot dogs for nigh on twenty years now, and had been mobbed by steadily-growing crowds of Discordians each Friday for 17 of them.

"Of Judaism, no meat of Pork! Of Hinduism, no meat of Beef!"

Technically speaking, Harry's hot dogs were 100% lamb; they were certified both kosher and halal, and were popular with Portlandsers of many faiths.

"Of Catholic Christendom, no meat on Friday! Of Buddhism, no meat of any animal!"

He also had tofu dogs. Every Friday, he tried explaining these things to whichever lunatic was giving the speech, but they never listened.

"And of Discordianism! No eating of hot dog buns!"

They got him there, though. He would not give anyone a hot dog un-bunned. Gluten-free, organic, free-range, whatever kind of bun you needed, he would give it to you. But not a naked hot dog. That was just obscene.

"COMMANDMENT FOUR! A Discordian shall Partake of No Hot Dog Buns, for Such was the Solace of Our Goddess when She was Confronted with The Original Snub!"

Alliott was his favorite of the Friday preachers. She could really hit those capital letters. The kid from Deer, the one with the pope hat, they always forgot a couple.

"AND COMMANDMENT FIVE! A Discordian is Prohibited of Believing what he reads."

And the tips! Gods, did Alliott tip well. It wasn't always easy to spend—cryptocurrencies that hadn't launched yet, gold Krugerrands, an IOU from the Dean of ICSUT—but there was always a lot of it. Harry was pretty sure his kids' college educations had been solely funded by that woman's tips.

"IT IS SO WRITTEN! SO BE IT. HAIL DISCORDIA! PROSECUTORS WILL BE TRANSGRESSICUTED."

A final cheer of "Hail Eris!" from the crowd, and everyone fell silent as they tucked into their hot dogs. After selling a few more to stragglers, Harry started his little electric motor and headed off; there was a frat party at ICSUT tonight, and he wanted to set up on the lawn before things got rowdy.

"Hey, Alliott?" Iris had parked her bike up against a tree, her duffle still on the back. It could handle itself. "Got a minute?"

"Hey! Iris!" Alliott's mouth was half-full of hot dog; she had another in each hand. "You get one? I think Harry just left, but he gave me an extra today."

"Oh, uh, thanks, sure." Iris took a bite of the offered sausage. It was a really good goddamn hot dog. "That is a really good goddamn hot dog."

"Harry deserves a goddamn Michelin star, I swear." Her hot dog stopped halfway to her mouth. "Hey! I recognize that shirt! Nice job, Stella is hot as fuck."

Iris stared at the offered fist-bump. "Uh." Comprehension dawned, slowly but surely. "Oh! Uh. No. Stole this from a ceiling fan this morning. And she's not my type. Got that ‘super-subby-but-bad-at-subbing’ energy. Lots of keysmashing and colon-threes and selfies in cheap-looking collars."

"Hmm. You're probably right." Alliott finished her fifth dog, and tossed the little paper boat in a trash can. "So… Why did you come to Hot Dog Friday? Something happen at the afterparty I need to know about?"

"Oh! Right. No. This isn't a derby thing." Iris glanced around nervously, and decided that the mob of Discordians was probably, on average, too stoned to care. "I need somewhere to hide out for… A while? Someone tried to kidnap me."

Alliott went from chill Discordian guru to stone-faced criminal ass-kicker in no time flat. It was equal parts terrifying and arousing. Well, if Iris was being honest with herself, it was more like three parts arousing to one part terrifying. "Who?"

"Uh. Morty, uh, Mordecai Diabolus, Spawn of the Dark One, Deer Student Body President-For-Life—"

"Ok, if another Deerie tried to kidnap you, shouldn't you go to the campus cops? Like, if you don't want to do that, I'll help you out, but Deer Community Safety scares me shitless, I can't believe they'd have a problem with some third-rate antichrist."

"No, no, you didn't let me finish. Morty, who is my roommate's… Boyfriend? Definitely more than a fuck buddy, but they're keeping their relationship secret because it would be a political scandal in like, three or four ways, so I probably shouldn't've told you, and it's definitely a domme-sub type of thing but I don't know if that's just how they like to have sex or if they—"

"Iris. Stay with me. Deep breaths."

"Sorry. Stressful day." She focused on her breathing for a few seconds, and continued. "Morty said it was probably Marshall, Carter and Dark."

"Oh. Yeah." Alliott didn't look suprised, or particularly worried. That, in itself, was pretty surprising and worrying. "That… Makes a lot of sense, actually."

"What the fuck."

"I'll tell you back at my place. C'mon, grab your bike, I've got a shortcut."


Meanwhile, one universe up and three hours north-east, two young men stood before an old oak door. This one had no runic bindings, no channels for sacrificial blood, no locks wrought from meteoric iron by the wise men of ages long ago; but to these young men, what lay behind this door was more frightening than whatever might be lurking beyond that other door, six stories below their feet.

"I can't believe you let her get away," the first one said. He was short and plump, and wore a green-and-gold plaid suit; his tie was printed with a picture of an anatomically-improbably cartoon woman, her eyes rolling back and mouth hanging open in sexual ecstasy.

The second was tall and thin; his tracksuit was pink camouflage, and his bucket hat proclaimed him to be the World's Best Grandma. With a hint of a French accent, he said, "I am not the one who had her at my mercy and fucked it all up."

"She turned her arm into a flaming sword! How was I supposed to react to that?" The short one ran a hand through his over-gelled hair, and glared at his companion. "I thought she was supposed to be a normal college student, not some sort of roller-skating ninja."

"Did you do any research? Deer is a wizard college. It's like ICSUT, but for people who know what postmodernism is."

"Whatever. Let's get this over with, yeah?"

"Oui."

They stepped forwards, and each turned one of the polished brass doorknobs. The doors creaked open, revealing a well-appointed office; the men's eyes met, but before they could nod at each other dramatically, an old man's voice echoed from within.

"We don't have all day. Get in here, already."

The young men scurried in, and sat in a pair of hideously expensive metal chairs, created specifically for this office by a bald Finnish designer with three PhDs and a wife twenty years his junior. (The chairs were incredibly uncomfortable; that was a feature, not a flaw.) The chairs were positioned in front of two massive desks, which had been made some centuries ago in an Istanbul workshop run by blind eunuchs; each was monogrammed, the left with an "M" and the right with a "C". Behind the desks, of course, sat Marshall and Carter, the former fat and red, the latter pale and thin.

Once the visitors had seated themselves, Carter spoke, with venom in his voice. "I want to know exactly what went wrong with your retrieval of the Black girl. Do not omit anything." When nobody responded, he said, "Chrysophilus. You first."

Skitter Marshall adjusted his tasteless anime tie nervously. "Well, uh, we sent you an email with—"

He was interrupted by the elder Marshall. "Yes, we read the email, boy! And now we are asking you to repeat what was in the email! What about that is so hard to comprehend?"

"Right! Right. Well, she - uh, Iris Black - came out of the Way right where our informant said she would…"


"… And then the Cartier boy crashed his hideous machine into a lorry, and they lost her." Amos Marshall wiped sweat from his brow from a handkerchief. "Your granddaughter is quite something, Percival. I'm almost disappointed the lads will have to, ah, disassemble her."

Percival Dark raised an eyebrow. "Indeed it is." A thin smile crawled onto his lips, where it perched without changing the rest of his face. "I am sure I will enjoy being her, when the time comes."

"Quite right, old boy, quite right." Rupert Carter glanced nervously at Marshall. They'd drawn lots, before they entered. He didn't want to ask the question. "Ah. It'll be a nice change, after however many millenia. Um."

"Bertie, I know you want to ask me something. Spit it out."

"Well. You see." Carter stared at his own feet, feeling an emotion he hadn't felt since he got called up to the headmaster's office for fixing rugby games in primary school. "I'm just not sure… How they're going to…" He sighed. "We had to cut your balls out, Percy, it's in the ritual. They can't just use the ovaries instead."

Percival Dark's smile dripped with venom. "You know I cannot lie to you, so trust me when I say she fulfills the requirements. And, if I may make a suggestion? Please get with the times." He paused just long enough for Carter to open his mouth. "That will be all."

"But—"

The room grew dark. "I said that will be all."

"Right! Yes. We'll keep you updated." Marshall and Carter hurried out; and as they did, Dark's smile finally reached its eyes.

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